Jesse Lingard developed a reputation for scoring at Wembley during his Manchester United days, but has since struggled to capitalize on those prime moments with Nottingham Forest now weighing their options.
Jesse Lingard, Ian Rush, and Mark Hughes. Three men who have their names engraved in the history of English football, but one still seeks to develop his potential.
The trio have scored in FA Cup and League Cup finals, as well as the Charity Shield. A unique statistic that shows how Lingard has an appetite for the big occasion alongside some big names, who have enjoyed trophy-filled careers and garnered numerous individual accolades.
Now at Nottingham Forest, via a loan spell from West Ham, the former Manchester United man has enjoyed some headline moments but has struggled to produce consistently. He scored in United’s last domestic title, his team’s second when they beat Southampton.
That came on the heels of his FA Cup-winning volley against Crystal Palace and a 2016/17 curtain-opener against then champions Leicester.
Lingard was just 24 when he scored in the League Cup final and looked to be the next United youth player to establish himself in a successful team. Now, six years later, the Red Devils have struggled to build on that win, but the forward hasn’t quite blossomed as expected either.
Lingard scored three times under the goal in less than a year while writing his name in the history books. His sweet volley against Palace came after he was introduced as a substitute by Louis van Gaal, who would be sacked after the FA Cup success.
The man from Bosque would end up scoring the last goal of the Van Gaal spell and the first goal of the José Mourinho era (he also scored the last goal of the Special One spell in a loss at Liverpool). His solo effort against the Foxes was overshadowed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late goal, but he contributed another piece of silverware nonetheless.
The Lingard-Ibra double act was, again, in tandem months later when they beat the Saints, who had come from 2-0 down before losing in the end.
Overlooked, borrowed and snubbed
Lingard’s club career apparently peaked at Wembley. He had brief moments where he rose to his feet when United threatened, but ultimately failed, to capitalize on Mourinho’s first year, which saw them claim three silver pieces.
It was the departure of Special One that would be the beginning of the end for Lingard, who never enjoyed the same status under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Norwegian used it initially, but was marginalized more and more and preferred other options.
In an effort to rediscover his form, he headed to West Ham for the second half of the 2020/21 season, picking up a double on his debut in a win over Aston Villa. The Hammers, who were at the time mounting a charge for European football, reaped the rewards of a confidently flowing Lingard.
The versatile star would score nine times in 16 outings. “I think it’s just consistency behind my form,” Lingard said of his renaissance. “Obviously, I hadn’t played a lot in the last two years, so to be playing week after week and keeping this form is great, but the team has helped me enormously.”
He would face the same problem once he returned to Manchester with the Red Devils reluctant to let Lingard go once they saw what he was capable of. But there didn’t seem to be a clear path for him in the first team, especially after the signing of Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Solskjaer stated that Lingard had a “big role to play”. That role consisted of zero starts in the 12 games before the Norwegian was fired after a poor start to the season. During that period, Lingard justifiably turned down a new contract, and his current contract expires that summer.
The England international ultimately opted to join Premier League now boys Nottingham Forest despite the potential to return to West Ham, who were keen to acquire his services on a permanent basis last summer.
Instead, Forest made him the club’s top earner in a deal believed to be worth £115,000 a week plus incentive. He faced criticism from Gary Neville, who said: “The Lingard thing was just a one-year deal. It was almost like he was telling everyone, I don’t think these are staying. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it was something cold, you commit to a club for at least two years. He’s feeling a bit clinical.
“They could have shaped it differently. It is a transactional deal. It seems like he comes in for that one-year contract and then leaves again. This won’t look good if it goes bad.”
And it went wrong that it has. While Steve Cooper’s men might well avoid the fall, currently sitting in 13th, Lingard has by no means led his charge to survival. The 30-year-old has played in 14 league games and has yet to score with his influence far behind than expected.
It is now reported that Forest could choose to let Lingard look for another employer once summer rolls around. A one-year contract that seemed to favor the player could now work very well for the City Ground.
Forest take on West Ham at the London Stadium on Saturday, in what will be a case of déjà vu for Lingard, who must wonder what would have happened had he not snubbed the Hammers. He must also think about what might have been if his career had taken a different route after his heroics at Wembley six years ago.