Jesse Lingard had to wait for his chance to make a first-team impression at the club he’s been at since the age of seven but, boy, has his patience paid off.
An Academy product who plays the game with a smile on his face, his pace and intelligent movement is proving invaluable for the Reds.
Not in his wildest dreams could Lingard have foreseen a season quite like his 2015/16 one that ended with him sweetly volleying the winning goal in extra-time against Crystal Palace to clinch the FA Cup during Louis van Gaal’s final game in charge.
In 2016/17, Lingard twice returned to Wembley and twice scored again: first in the Community Shield and then in the EFL Cup final. As such, he’s fast earning himself a reputation as a man for the big occasion, as well as a scorer of great goals.
The attacking midfielder has progressed through the ranks with United after being treated patiently by the coaches, and made his senior bow for the club in the opening game of the 2014/15 season against Swansea City, only to pick up a serious injury.
An FA Youth Cup winner in 2011, he had loan spells at Leicester City, Birmingham City – where he scored four goals in a memorable debut against Sheffield Wednesday – Brighton & Hove Albion and Derby County, and netted at the Under-21 European Championship finals before being promoted to the full England squad.
The livewire forward can play on the flanks or in his preferred central role, just behind the striker. A clever and assured finisher, he is capable of mixing the spectacular finish with well-placed shots and causes problems for defenders with his direct running.
A hard worker who always tracks back for the team, he is tactically smart and very much a team player. Playing alongside pals Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, he is a bubbly character who clearly enjoys performing for the club he supported as a child.
Having expressed a desire to add more goals to his game, he delivered on that promise to remarkable effect in the 2017/18 campaign, and exploded in the winter with a purple patch that delivered eight goals in 10 games, many of them goal-of-the-season contenders.
At the end of February he stepped off the bench to head the winner in the Premier League against Chelsea at Old Trafford, and he featured in the key league wins against Liverpool and Manchester City, plus the FA Cup semi-final success over Tottenham. He figured again in the final against Chelsea but, sadly, there was to be no fairytale ending for Lingard or United this time.
The following summer Jesse played a vital role in England’s run to the semi-final of the Word Cup, netting a sublime curled effort in the group-stage win against Panama.
After a stop-start beginning to the 2018/19 campaign, our number 14 returned to his best form around the turn of the year, and in doing so proved once again that he has become an essential part of this United squad. He slotted home a penalty and a cool second in the 5-1 drubbing of Cardiff that kicked off the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era, and scored vital strikes in both the league and cup against Arsenal.
Two separate month-long spells out with injury made it a somewhat frustrating campaign for the England regular, but his virtues make him an important cog in the United squad.