When Manchester United’s starting line-up for their Tuesday night’s game against Watford was announced, social media came alive with supporters mouthing off about Jesse Lingard’s inclusion.
You know, the player who won them the FA Cup last year, scored in the EFL Cup final earlier this year, who has been wearing a United shirt since he was a toddler, and who loves the club.
Yet, according to some, that doesn’t make him worthy of a place in United’s starting team. And they’re right, it doesn’t.
Me when Lingard starts over Rashford… pic.twitter.com/I8SZUbGhlo
— Robbie Brown (@blobbyboy12) November 28, 2017
Jesse Lingard as a number 10 long night ahead….
— Deano Baggio (@deancharleslm) November 28, 2017
The fact that when Lingard plays, for all his faults, United tend to look pretty good on the attack, is a reason to play him though. His movement poses all sorts of problems for the opposition defence and gives more space to the players around him.
He’s got so much pace which is a great asset when United are breaking and is capable of scoring a goal or two for himself. That doesn’t make him world class or someone who should be starting for United every week, but it makes him an option worth having in the squad.
Yet since United have stopped winning the Premier League, some fans have fairly strange expectations for anyone who pulls on the shirt.
Even before Lingard went on a great solo run, taking on half of the Watford team to kill off a game that looked to be slipping away from The Red Devils after Marco Silva’s team clawed back two goals when United had gone 3-0 up, the supporters in the away end were pointing out the huge flaw in the Lingard bashing.
Songs for Nicky Butt, Wes Brown and John O’Shea could be heard from the away end. Remember them? None of them consistently held down a starting place in United’s starting XI, other than when the first-choice player ahead of them was injured, yet they are remembered fondly now.
While there are countless occasions when squad players did the business when called upon, a few stand out in the memory. Like when Roy Keane was ruled out of the Arsenal clash with flu in 2004 and Phil Neville filled in for him in midfield. He bullied Antonio Reyes out of the game, doing the captain proud in his absence, and United ended Arsene Wenger’s 49 game unbeaten run.
When Gary Neville was ruled out of the 2007-08 season, Brown played more games than any other player, starting every week at right-back. United won the league and European Cup that season, with Brown assisting his team’s only goal in the final against Chelsea.
Ji Sung Park time and again proved his worth to United and was Sir Alex Ferguson’s pick for the big games. Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and AC Milan are among the opponents that Park scored important goals against, with him also being used to man-mark key players out of the game. “He never let us down on the big occasions,” Ferguson said of the South Korean.
Nothing typifies the importance of good quality squad players than United’s Champions League winning final of 1999 though.
With Keane and Paul Scholes suspended, United started the game with Butt and Jesper Blomqvist in midfield.
With United losing 1-0 in the last minute, it was substitutes Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who won the trophy in injury time, after Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke failed to score.
Yet now, for some reason, United fans expect two world class players for every position.
United can’t play the same 11 players every week so there has to be rotation. For a winnable game away to Watford, ahead of a tough clash against Arsenal, Lingard is a good player to use to rest the legs of others.
The fact that he secured the three points for United proves his worth.
A few weeks earlier, Lingard booked United in to the next round of the EFL Cup when scoring both goals in United’s win over Swansea.
This season, he’s scored four goals and assisted three in all competitions, which works out at a goal or an assist every 95 minutes on the pitch. Compare that with Marcus Rashford, with a goal or assist every 107 minutes, Henrikh Mkhitaryan every 157 minutes and Juan Mata every 305 minutes, and Lingard comes off pretty well.
Gentle reminder that Jesse Lingard is currently our best number ten.
— John Ashton (@thedoveman1982) November 28, 2017
Before last night most of you probably wouldn't have considered Jesse Lingard to be a world class footballer. Life moves fast. Really makes you think.
— Nomalizo (@krn_brk) November 29, 2017
Football isn’t just about what someone does on paper but it’s hard to argue that Lingard offers nothing, when his record at Wembley in winning United cup finals and the creativity he has shown when played this season proves otherwise.
The blushes he caused in his detractors will be forgotten the next time that Jose Mourinho puts him in the starting line-up, but maybe they will be less vocal in their exaggerated criticism.
Lingard will never be the best player in the team, but he is just the sort of player you want in the squad when your club is competing on four fronts.
Just like Fletcher, O’Shea, Brown, Evans, Park and all the others before him.