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19th Aug 2019

Jesse Lingard is running out of time to figure out what he does

Wayne Farry

Youthful enthusiasm and the excitement of inexperience is cute until you grow up

Jesse Lingard is a 26-year-old man. At times during his career he has occasionally threatened to become a very good footballer, but he is running out of time to figure out what it is that he does.

Is he a winger? Is he an attacking midfielder? Is he a number 10? The answer to all of these questions is ‘kind of, but not really’. Lingard has played four consecutive Premier League seasons with a minimum of 25 games, and no one knows what he is best at. And it simply isn’t good enough.

Versatility can be a virtue in football, just as it can in other areas of life. Being versatile means you may be trusted to handle a number of tasks or, in the case of footballers, be trusted in any number of positions.

The key to this is being extremely proficient in a variety of areas. If you’re not, your versatility quickly sees you labeled as a jack of all trades, and a master of none.

After initially impressing at Manchester United thanks to his ability to fill in wherever needed, Lingard’s inability to make a mark in a particular area of the pitch or facet of the game has rendered him equally ineffective at everything he puts his hand to.

He is capable of making late runs into the box, but lacks the instinctive reflexes to make the most of it.

He is capable of cutting in from the flank, but lacks the final product to lay the ball on for a teammate in a better position.

He is also capable of surging forward with the ball, but lacks the composure to consistently make the most of it.

For a number of years, Lingard has been at the 70 per cent stage of his development. This was absolutely fine at the age of 22, and even the age of 23, but now – as he reaches the age where he should be beginning to peak – the England international looks more confused regarding his purpose on the field than he’s ever been.

Against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday night, Lingard played for 80 minutes before being substituted for Juan Mata.

At almost every moment of those 80, he looked lost at sea. While the current Manchester United team looks to be, for the most part, a cohesive unit focussed on what their individual roles within the set up are, Lingard cuts a wandering, directionless figure.

When he receives the ball he lacks conviction and purpose – desperate to make an impact but desperately incapable of doing so.

He flits around the pitch, assuming space unoccupied by others, letting the game pass him by. It’s as if he is playing in a free role, but is paralysed by the prospect of what that entails.

For years he has been referred to as a ‘young lad’, someone who’ll eventually come good. Increasingly though the writing is on the wall, for even the most romantic of supporters.

Lingard’s United career has been entertained for much longer than it ever would have been during more successful and ruthless eras at the club, and he should be pleased with what he has done and what he has won.

But he is not the golden goose that many – hoping against hope that the conveyor belt of world-class local talent was up and running again – had dreamed he was.

He is simply a mediocre footballer, and Manchester United need to cut the cord.