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19th Mar 2021

Jesse Lingard’s England recall completes heartwarming redemption arc

Jesse Lingard's return to the England set-up is well deserved for a player who has faced more obstacles than most in his career

Reuben Pinder

J-Lingz is back and there’s nothing you can do about it

Jesse Lingard’s career has been full of setbacks. It feels as though since he broke into the Manchester United first team in the 15/16 season, he has always either been playing beyond the hype, or flattering to deceive, never simply playing well, to his expected level.

Lingard carries the heavy weight of expectations put upon him by fans, the media, and the speculation machine that constantly needs a new thing to debate. A media landscape that encourages binary opinion has created a divide surrounding Lingard that has, at times, grown toxic.

But – and this shouldn’t need saying as much as it does – Lingard is a human being, who faces human problems, just like the rest of us.

Throughout the pandemic-stricken 19/20 season, Lingard made 40 appearances for Manchester United across all competitions, scoring just four goals. Like you, I was surprised to read he made more than 20 appearances. He seemed almost absent from the United squad, coming on for 10 minute cameos to give more in-form players a rest, just to run around for a bit, never given a run of games.

That is not to say he should have been given a long run of games. As we now know, Lingard was enduring personal problems behind the scenes that understandably affected his output on the pitch. An extended run of games for a player not in the right frame of mind could have done more harm than good to his confidence and reputation.

“Last season, I was going through some things off the field with my family so it was difficult for me to perform on the field,” Lingard revealed last summer.

I’m very family-orientated and my mum was going through some things last year with depression… she went to London to get that sorted out so in the meantime, I had to look after my little brother and sister who are 12 and 15.”

These revelations will have given his critics a reality check. At a time when everyone was struggling in some way or another, as our usual routines were shattered by a life threatening virus, Lingard had to step up at home to care for his mother and his siblings. Is it any wonder he took a bit of a dip in form?

Lingard’s loan move to West Ham in January didn’t inspire much hope of a renaissance. An out of form player going to play for David Moyes, a transfer facilitated by club connections more than anything else, understandably did not have fans of either club anticipating a return to his best.

But much of football’s beauty comes from its unpredictability, and Lingard’s debut brace, followed by two more goals in his next five games and subsequently a recall to the England squad, have once again silenced his doubters.

England boss Gareth Southgate spoke for all of us at Thursday’s press conference, saying: “It’s good to see him back playing with a smile on his face.”

He might not go to the Euros. When Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho are fit again, he will face tougher competition for a spot in a squad brimming with attacking talent.

But for now, let’s just enjoy the wholesome narrative of Jesse Lingard returning to his best form, and his best self.