If the FA Cup third round tie against Watford proves to be Jesse Lingard’s final hurrah in a Manchester United shirt, it will suitably match his final years for the club.
Making just his third appearance of the season, the former England international will have hoped to remind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer what he had in reserve.
A combination of injuries, coronavirus enforced isolations and competition for places, meant Lingard had been reduced to two Carabao Cup showings this campaign.
And while his performance couldn’t be described as poor, he certainly failed to make the kind of lasting impression that could earn him future starts.
The latest reports claim that Solskjaer is willing to let the academy graduate leave this month, with a host of clubs believed to be interested.
Inter Milan are the latest to be linked, although a number of Premier League sides have also been touted as potential destinations.
Either way, it now looks more than likely that Lingard’s 21-year Man Utd association is likely to end before long.
It’s been a rapid fall from grace for the midfielder, during the 2017/18 campaign, Lingard registered 20 goal involvements and was an integral part of England’s squad that made the World Cup semi final.
However, in his last 79 games for the Red Devils since those heady days in 2018, Lingard has managed just nine goals and six assists, with only one strike coming in the Premier League in that time.
There have been extenuating circumstances behind his decline, after he bravely admitted his battle with mental health issues.
But aged 28, he is standing at a major crossroads in his career, with serious question marks over whether he will ever reach the heights so many expected of him, after making his competitive debut in 2014.
Will Man Utd sell Jesse Lingard in the January window? Have your say here.
Louis van Gaal handed him that honour, but it was legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson that really raised expectations for what many hoped would be United’s next great midfielder.
Ferguson had named Lingard on the bench during his later years, before sanctioning a number of lower league loans.
“Jesse Lingard is going to be some player,” he said in 2012.
“He is 19, came through our youth system and is built like Jean Tigana was for France.
“But he never got into the limelight there until he was about 24, and I think that will be the same with Lingard.
“He will become a player when he’s 22 or so. As an attacking midfielder he has got a really good talent. I think he will be a player we have high hopes for, definitely.”
The Scot was half right with his prediction, when he was 24, Lingard looked as if the sky could be the limit.
Four years on however, the ceiling is drastically lower. A move to Italy could revitalise his career and even a Premier League switch could provide the spark needed.
Either way, comparisons with Tigana seem a lifetime away, but the hope for Lingard is that his performances at 24 and 25 weren’t his peak.
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