Less than two years ago, Jesse Lingard seemed to symbolise so much of what was wrong with United. Undoubtedly talented, but apparently without the right focus to really make it to the top. It was West Ham away that did it for a lot of fans.
This was a huge game for the race with City to finish in the top four. Before the match the United team bus was pelted with missiles by the home supporters illustrating ‘the West Ham way’ in anticipation of the last game at Upton Park.
Lingard streamed the whole thing live. Most of it with his tongue out. It wasn’t exactly the mindset and concentration expected of a United player before a huge game. It was a poor performance, we lost, and ended up losing out on a top four place on goal difference to City.
None of this was necessarily down to Lingard but it seemed emblematic of a team losing its way post-Fergie.
Jesse went someway to undoing it with his sumptuous strike to win the FA Cup 11 days later. He started to show he is a big game player and has the mentality to not just make it at United, but to thrive.
Since then he’s slowly developed into an important member of United’s squad. Now he’s arguably one of our most integral players with his recent run of form since the back end of last year. Put simply, he’s been unbelievable.
For those around United, it’s not been unexpected. Lingard has always been seen as a bit of a late bloomer from within the club. Rio Ferdinand said recently he knew that Lingard would hit this level.
For the fans though, he was viewed as a bit of a nearly man. A decent squad player but never really one of the best from the Youth Cup winning side of 2011.
Now he’s streets ahead of the likes of Ravel Morrison and the Keane twins, despite Michael’s big money move to Everton this summer. Lingard and Paul Pogba are now the outstanding players from that vintage.
What Lingard brings to United is something than no other player in the squad really does. And it’s for this reason that he shouldn’t be too concerned about the arrival of Alexis Sanchez. It’s his movement off the ball and the runs he makes that set him apart.
Whether finding space in the channel, a two-yard gap on the edge of the box or cutting in from the flank, he always asks questions of the opposition.
It was Louis van Gaal that first played him as a number 10, raising plenty of Stretford End eyebrows in the process. Now it looks like a natural fit and his best position. He’ll play there a lot, even with the introduction of Sanchez.
With the goals and the fulfilment of promise, he’s now symbolising all that’s good about the United way.
He’s a local lad with United in his blood. Having come through the youth team, he’s had to fight to get where he is with loan spells at Leicester, Birmingham, Brighton, and Derby, as well as a bad injury on the first day of the season in van Gaal’s first game in charge.
It’s that fight that’s now setting Lingard apart as a true United player, coupled with a game-changing mentality.
Last season he looked him scoring one chance in five, now he looks like he’s going to score every week.
He’s got more goals this season than Dele Alli, Kevin De Bruyne, Sadio Mane, Leroy Sane, and Christian Eriksen, and the same number as Eden Hazard.
If Jesse Lingard continues his Premier League form into the Champions League, he could make a real difference for United when it truly counts in Europe’s showpiece tournament.
And with the World Cup this summer, it could really be a season to remember for a true United player.