A debate raged in the Sky Sports studios on Wednesday night following the Manchester derby defeat. Roy Keane, Graeme Souness and Gary Neville took issue with Paul Pogba, claiming that he was not fulfilling his role in the Manchester United dressing room and that Jesse Lingard needed senior players ‘to look up to’; and that Pogba should be filling that leadership role.
There is a problem with this however.
Jesse Lingard is older than Paul Pogba by three months.
It may surprise you, but Jesse Lingard turns 27 this year. He is the same age as Paul Pogba — and also Neymar — and can no longer be considered a young player waiting to set the world alight.
Jesse Lingard was first called up to a Manchester United first team squad in 2011 under Sir Alex Ferguson. The myth of him being a ‘young’ player has been perpetuated through his juvenile antics, his failure to take responsibility on the field and his all-round immaturity.
The problem for Manchester United however is that the ‘potential’ which Lingard is believed to possess should have been realised by 2019. We have seen glimpses of talent, but never on a consistent basis in the Manchester United team.
He has never contributed enough to the team, whether grafting in hard-fought games or helping to turn the tide in those long lost. That could be said of a number of Manchester United players but Lingard betrays very little fight when opportunities are not being created for him.
What might give the illusion of Lingard’s youth? During the loss to City, fans online started re-sharing videos of Lingard and Pogba choreographing dance routines in the Carrington dressing room last summer. Should that time have been spent choreographing set piece routines? Or what about that ludicrous upload in 2016 where Lingard filmed his reaction as the United team bus was being attacked on the arrival to Upton Park for a game with West Ham United?
Others might point to the launching of a clothing line days before the Liverpool loss in December as more signs of Lingard’s immaturity. It now seems that Lingard is not immature in the sense that he will grow out of it; this is who he is. He has matured to the level he is going to reach.
So just what is the argument for Lingard as a Manchester United player? The winning goal in the FA Cup final in 2016, scoring important goals against Arsenal and Burnley last season in the league. He scored a tremendous solo goal against Watford last season. But these are not only highlights; these are the only contributions.
How long a grace period does the winning goal in a cup final merit? Mark Robbins famously scored the ‘goal that saved Alex Ferguson’ in the FA Cup run in 1990 — and also scored in the semi-final — yet was sold a mere two years later.
After years in the first team, we can now say that with Lingard, it is all flash and no substance. There is no middle ground in Jesse Lingard’s Manchester United performances. It is either heaven or hell. Salvation or eternal damnation. Brilliant or diabolical. Lingard is no steady Eddie. He is no Darren Fletcher or John O’Shea. Lingard looks great in a winning team, but you would never back his mettle in a true battle.
Against Crystal Palace in November, Lingard went down around the twenty minute mark and landed awkwardly. He was holding his wrist and immediately gesticulated to the bench to be substituted. Jose Mourinho, who would later blame the draw on ‘a lack of heart’, ignored Lingard’s plea and left him on the field until the 60th minute, being taken off at a moment when his wrist injury was long forgotten.
For those who remember Eric Cantona playing with a broken arm, Lingard’s sore wrist smacks of a lack of heart and a lack of appetite for the battle. Too many times he has been seen turning his back on the ball, or moving out of the way of an opposition defender for fear of getting hurt.
In the battle ahead, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will need warriors and Jesse Lingard has proven too many times that he would rather be seen dabbing on Snapchat than fighting the good fight.
Lingard will have his defenders, but to those I ask, has the ‘young’ attacker progressed in any meaningful way? Was Lingard’s performance against City on Wednesday night any better than his disastrous first half performance against City in September 2016 when he failed to even trap a ball and was substituted at half time?
Jesse Lingard is talented and home-grown, but his fleeting moments are not enough to warrant a continued place in a team aiming to be exceptional at all times. He appears to see his role at United as someone who participates in the attacking play, rather than someone who actually drives it and makes it happen. He is a ‘link man’ in a team that doesn’t have anything to link together.
By the time Paul McCartney turned 27, he had conquered the world. He was just finishing the Beatles’ final album at Abbey Road Studios in London. He had written some of the greatest songs the world would ever hear and would arguably never reach any of those heights ever again.
As Jesse Lingard turns 27, Manchester United and their supporters must accept that his time has gone and he is not the player who will make them a success in the future.
It’s time to move on.