Jesse Lingard has written an article for The Players’ Tribune and discusses what a slow developer he was.
Having joined the academy when he was just seven, he was 22 before he was given his debut, but Lingard reveals this came as no surprise after the chat he’d had with Sir Alex Ferguson.
I always knew my size was going to be a challenge. Even as I got older, I was still swimming in my kit. There’s this photo of me from the Nike Cup, and my brother always laughs about it.
We’re playing A.S. Roma.
I’m 15, looking like I’m 10.
And these Italian lads are 15, looking like they’re 25.
I remember walking out and seeing these boys had proper stubble, and I was thinking, Sheesh. You gotta find this photo. I look like a mascot who just run out onto the pitch for laughs.
Funny thing is, we won that match. We won a lot of matches back then, and I was playing well ― but I still wasn’t growing. When I turned 16, I seen a lot my teammates get pro contracts, but I wasn’t offered one. I was gutted.
Lingard claims if not for Ferguson, he wouldn’t still be at the club. The patience the manager showed in him, keeping him at United while loaning him out to other clubs to get himself ready, was key in Lingard’s progress.
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.