When Anthony Martial scored an injury time winner at Wembley to put Manchester United in the FA Cup final, it was the best feeling we had experienced as Reds for years. The euphoria that followed was another level, having been starved of big moments like these that we had become accustomed to under Sir Alex Ferguson, later pouring out of the ground singing “£50 million down the drain, Tony Martial scores again” on repeat.
A month later we returned to Wembley full of anticipation for our first post-Fergie trophy. The drama of the semi-final couldn’t be repeated here, right?
After a fairly uneventful game, with United having the better chances and seeing their efforts come back off the woodwork twice, Jason Puncheon took the lead for Crystal Palace. It was a great finish, leathering the ball past David de Gea at the near post, and now we had 10 minutes to get back in to the game. It only took three minutes for Alan Pardew to regret his celebration, with Juan Mata putting us back on level terms following some great work from Wayne Rooney.
The game went to extra-time and as Palace threatened to go two on one, Chris Smalling brought down Yannick Bolasie to earn his second booking of the game. After a gruelling season, an extended game, the last thing we needed was to play the final 15 minutes with a man disadvantage. But United stuck to it and in the second half of extra-time Jesse Lingard scored a sublime volley. The quality of the strike would be remembered in any context but in this one it was unreal.
It was a massive feeling. To win it is great and ending the season on a high with my family and friends watching in the crowd. It fell nicely for me to hit, I knew I had to catch it right and luckily I did. It’s the United way – we showed great team spirit. We had the older lads in midfield and youth up front to guide us through.
Lingard’s first trip to Wembley came in 1999 though when he travelled to the capital with his family to watch United lift the second trophy in our Treble winning season.
As a child, he was playing at both United and Liverpool, with his grandad taking him to both clubs from Warrington. “I was only young but obviously my heart was with United at the time,” he later said when reflecting on his decision to pick United. At 11, he was on the training ground learning from Cristiano Ronaldo and at 12 he moved in to digs in Manchester.
At 18 he was a part of the 2011 FA Youth Cup winning side, scoring a goal in the first leg of the final, and signed his first professional contract with the club following this. But Lingard was a late bloomer and spent much of his early time as a pro on loan at the likes of Leicester, Birmingham and Brighton.
It wasn’t until 2015 that Lingard broke in to the first team and earlier remarks from Ferguson about the player’s development emerged.
“When I turned 16, I saw a lot of my team-mates get pro contracts, but I wasn’t offered one. I was gutted,” Lingard told The Players’ Tribune. “Honestly, I don’t think I’d be here if it weren’t for Sir Alex. If it weren’t for the main man. One day, he had a meeting with me and my family. He sat us down in his office and he said, “It’s going to take a while for you, Jesse. We believe in you. But you’re going to have to be patient. You’re not going to be ready for the first team until you’re 22 or 23. I can’t even tell you how massive that was for me and my family. You’d think I’d be disappointed, but when an absolute legend like Sir Alex says they believe in you, that means everything. He didn’t have to meet with us, and he didn’t have to say that to me. But that’s why he’s Sir Alex, and that’s why Man United is Man United.”
Lingard started Louis van Gaal’s first league game in charge but an injury less than half an hour in saw him go six months without football before being loaned out to Derby while he got himself ready for the first team again.
The following season, aged 22, Lingard earned a place by in Van Gaal’s team. He had a decent first campaign, scoring five goals in all competitions, including a great finish to get us a point against Chelsea, before he announced himself with that goal against Palace at Wembley.
“To now be playing week in, week out in the Premier League for Manchester United is a dream come true. I’m living the dream,” Lingard said at the time.
Three months later, we played Leicester in the Community Shield, and Lingard was again on the scoresheet again as we beat Claudio Ranieri’s side 2-1. He went on a brilliant run, skipping through the defence of the champions, before slotting the ball away.
The club included him in a mural at the Academy to inspire the next generation of young players coming through.
Later that season we were in another cup final, this time the League Cup against Southampton, and having waited years for a piece of silverware, we scooped another piece. Zlatan Ibrahimovic rightly received most of the plaudits that day, having put us ahead and scoring the late winner, but it was Lingard who had put us 2-0 up before Southampton came back. Three goals at Wembley for Lingard in the space of nine months.
He enjoyed scoring at the Emirates just as much though, getting Arsenal Football Club so rattled over his goal celebrations that for months following they continued to retaliate to him labelling their ground the Dancefloor.
Lingard was rewarded with a new four-year deal and spoke of what it meant to him to play for his boyhood club.
“Manchester United has always been a big part of my life,” he said. “I have been with the club since the age of seven and I feel great pride every time I pull the shirt on. To have scored in two cup finals for my boyhood club were immensely proud moments for me and my family.”
The season ended with just five goals and three assists, but that didn’t stop him from showing his face after the final home game of the season, when he went to Hotel Football to get some drinks in for the fans.
The following showed his best return for United, having earned the trust of Jose Mourinho, scoring 13 and assisting seven. He was finally starting to look like the player sections of the support hoped he would become, having rooted for the academy lad.
He ended that campaign in the summer with arguably England’s best goal in the World Cup too.
He had been a part of the team that season which saw a 2-0 deficit at half-time at the Etihad overturned as we won 3-2, only delaying City’s title celebrations, but denying them what would have been one of the worst days in our modern history. After the final whistle, our players heard that City had booked tables at Wings in town to celebrate the day they believed they were winning the league. “Booked tables have you?” Lingard reportedly goaded them at the dressing room after the game. “We’ll take your fucking tables!”
While there had been plenty who had doubted him throughout his time at United, it’s still hard to see how he has gone from a useful squad player, sometimes an important member of the side, a regular England starter, to where he’s at now.
Having scored the last goal of Jose Mourinho’s time at the club at Anfield against Liverpool, then scoring two in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first game against Cardiff, there was the hope he could kick on and rediscover his peak form from the season before, when he’d found the back of the net 10 times in 13 games between November and January. In the December, he had made seven appearances, where he scored five goals and assisted one, working out at a goal or assist every 88 minutes he was on the pitch.
With off field responsibilities regarding his family taking a toll on him and better players coming through and being bought, Lingard hasn’t had a look in. Last season, he scored his first Premier League goal on the final day of the campaign as we beat Leicester 2-0, in the 98th minute! He hasn’t played in the league for us since, with this season’s contributions limited to three appearances in cup games.
Lingard will now look to his loan at West Ham as a way to revitalise his career, having turned 28 last month, with him having the hope he may still return to United. An option to buy hasn’t been included in this loan deal, with Solskjaer clearly wanting to see what can be done for a player he has coached since the youth teams.
He’s had plenty of stick, from our fans as much as from people outside the club, but there’s no denying he’s loved every minute of being here and we wish him well whatever the future holds.
It’s funny, certain people will criticize me now because I’m always smiling out there on the pitch. But I’ll never stop being myself. I’ll never stop enjoying my football. I’ll never take the smile off my face when I step over the line, because I know what it means to wear this shirt. I know how lucky I am to do what I do for a living, and to represent this badge, and I’m never gonna stop enjoying it for a minute.
Good luck at West Ham, Jesse!