It was clear watching Jesse Lingard’s performances at the end of the 2018/19 season that something was badly wrong.
Lingard was frequently a passenger in games, and his influence totally deserted him. He looked lost.
So it was infuriating that last summer Ole Gunnar Solskjaer kept faith, did not even bring in competition, and then proceeded to give him chance after chance.
Eventually even his patience appeared to run out, with the boss seen to uncharacteristically snap at him from the bench during the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester City.
Days later Manchester United signed Bruno Fernandes. The message was loud and clear.
Many United supporters have given up on Lingard. He has lost his mojo, and he did not make the most recent England squad.
Since Fernandes’ arrival, he has often not even made the matchday 18. He did not feature in the squad in the 2-0 win over City at the start of March.
Lingard has since been linked with a possible exit, with The Independent suggesting he may follow Chris Smalling and Ashley Young to Serie A.
For now, his mind is on the task at hand, as it should be. Lingard admits he was not in the right head space, and insists he is now fully focused.
Lingard told Adidas Home Team’s The Huddle: “I have the right attitude, I have the right desire, I have the right hunger to win games to play for United to obviously win trophies which is one of the most important things.
“Last season, for some reason I didn’t set any targets. My mind wasn’t there, I wasn’t really pushing myself. It felt like it weren’t me. You feel like when you watch yourself you’re like ‘that’s not Jesse.’
“I know who I am and my family know who I am, I know how I play and, like I say, I didn’t really push myself last season. So this season I’m gonna have targets, I’m gonna have goals that I need to hit, individually and as a team as well.”
Lingard’s comments raise some big questions, including whether he should even be given another chance.
But for now, we should give him the benefit of the doubt and see what he can do over the next two months. He has been training with the rest of the first team squad and will be battling to play a role over the final few weeks.
Time is running out
There isn’t a lot working in Lingard’s favour right now. He is not part of our best XI, and there are young players like Mason Greenwood and Angel Gomes who will be hoping to get the nod off the substitute’s bench instead.
United are planning for the future and looking for potential signings. Proposed moves for the likes of Donny van de Beek or Jack Grealish spell trouble for Lingard’s future.
Lingard, now 27, netted two goals and provided one assist in 34 appearances this season. Those numbers speak for themselves.
We are not expecting a big change over the remaining nine Premier League games.
What if he proves us wrong?
Lingard is on a bit of a hiding to nothing here, as if he performs well, it will just be seen as another one of his purple patches. United should not get too hung up on it.
It would be dangerous for United to abandon a transfer move for a player like Grealish or Van de Beek just because Lingard nets three goals in a nine game spell. It could prove to be another false dawn.
The past 18 months have been a clearer indication of Lingard’s ability than anything he can produce over the next two.
But being open minded, if he can kick on, there won’t be an immediate rush to sell a player who is probably given a bit of special treatment as an academy graduate.
There will only be space for one of Lingard and Andreas Pereira in United’s squad next season. Both may end up getting moved on.
If Lingard does perform, he will probably push Pereira closer to the exit. As it stands, the older Lingard is currently more likely to leave.
Whether Lingard should even get much of a chance over the next few weeks is a contentious point in itself.
Many would prefer Angel Gomes gets those opportunities. He has been held back this season, and Lingard has spurned his chances.
Solskjaer likes him though, and Lingard is saying all the right things. Perhaps this will be his swansong.
If his United career is to end this summer, he may be able to sign off with another FA Cup trophy win and finally draw a line under his spell at Old Trafford.
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