Jesse Lingard is determined to prove his worth and get back to the “old Jesse”, having used the lockdown to reevaluate and press reset on a season where off-field issues have impacted form and focus.
Two years ago the attacking midfielder had just returned from the World Cup in Russia, where he played an important role in helping England reach the semi-finals during a summer that will live long in the memory.
But Lingard has not represented his country since last year’s Nations League finals, having struggled for form and game-time during what he accepts has been a challenging campaign at Manchester United.
The 27-year-old opened up to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer about off-field issues late last year and, despite having only played twice since the restart, feels like he is back on the right track.
“At the start of the season I had quite a few off-the-field issues that I had to deal with privately,” Lingard told the PA news agency. “Obviously I spoke to the manager about it and he understood.
“When I was playing, I wasn’t really fully concentrated. I was thinking about different things in the back of my head of what’s happening off the field.
“I wasn’t really mentally right, really, to play even to an extent.
“Lockdown kind of came at a good time for me, where I could really reevaluate the things that were happening.
“It’s just about getting me back to me, like me back to the old Jesse.
“I used to obviously revise on all the games I played, whether it be the World Cup games or games in the youth team.
“It’s about me looking at that and thinking ‘yeah, there is a player there’ and ‘be more confident and show your ability’.
“Even from when we went back to United, I’ve trained well over there and I’ve been positive, so it’s just about obviously waiting for my chance to play again and I’ll be ready so I’m in a really good place at the moment mentally, physically.
“I’ve got good people around me that are looking after me. The coaching staff are happy, so I’ve got to wait for my opportunity now.”
Solskjaer spoke about Lingard’s qualities and value to the side before last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final, but the United boss did not call upon the attacking midfielder during the disappointing 3-1 loss to Chelsea.
The 27-year-old understands there are players in form ahead of him now, but there is a clear drive to take his chance when it arises.
“I do feel like I can kick on now,” he said. “Of course you’re going to be disappointed when you’re in the stand or you’re on the bench and you don’t come on, but I’ll always be there for the team when I play or when I come off the bench as well.
“I’ve been going into training smiling, staying positive and I feel really good. Like I say, I’m in a really good place at the moment mentally and physically.”
Lingard was speaking as part of his role as an ambassador for American Pistachio Growers, less than 24 hours after another academy graduate entered the record books when sealing a 1-1 draw against West Ham.
Mason Greenwood joined George Best, Brian Kidd and Wayne Rooney as the top scoring United teenager in a single-season – and few expect the 18-year-old to end on 17 goals for the campaign.
“Yeah, I think he’s pretty special,” Lingard said. “I feel like whatever he hits will go in the back of the net, whether it be right foot or left foot. Even in training, his finishing is second to none.
“He’s only going to learn and grow. He’s only 18, which is the crazy thing about it.
“He’s come onto the scene so young and he’s doing so well.
“For him now, it’s about wanting more, being hungry to play, working hard in training to obviously keep his spot in the team.
“I think that’s what he needs to do now but he’s always been a good kid.
“He’s got a lot of banter and I feel like he just gets about his day normally. He’s calm, he’s composed and when he trains he really works hard.
“I’m always in his ear, every now and then, giving him a kick up the butt to get him going again.
“But he’s been brilliant. He’s been brilliant and no-one can have a flaw on him.”
Greenwood, Lingard and the whole squad’s immediate focus is squarely on Sunday’s top-four showdown at Leicester, where United will secure Champions League qualification if they can avoid defeat.
“I think it has been really good,” Lingard said of United’s return from lockdown. “Obviously there’s a lot of games and they’re thick and fast.
“You can get tired in a few games but there’s always people there to come on and change the game. But we’ve been beating teams three and four nil and we’re in a great position right now.
“I believe obviously West Ham game we should have won, but we move on and focus on the Leicester game.
“Win that and then we’ve got (the) Champions League secure, so that’s our main aim right now.”
::Jesse Lingard is an ambassador for American Pistachio Growers using American pistachios as a go-to snack for training and physical recovery. Visit https://americanpistachios.co.uk/ for more information
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