Moscow (AFP) – Jesse Lingard has earned himself a reputation as a man for the big occasion at Manchester United. Now he could be England’s X-factor at the World Cup.
The tournament in Russia has showcased the best and worst of Lingard — a clutch of missed chances in England’s opening win against Tunisia before an outstanding 20-metre curling effort in the 6-1 Panama rout.
Now he is expected to face Sweden in Saturday’s quarter-final in Samara.
Gareth Southgate’s team have scored nine goals in Russia so far but just two of them have been from open play, and one of those was a fortunate deflection when a Ruben Loftus-Cheek long-range shot looped in off Harry Kane’s heel.
Lingard, for so long a fringe player for United and England, does not have the profile of a Kane or even Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, who came to Russia following an outstanding season for the Premier League champions.
Sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly Lingard provides and he has a frustrating tendency to go missing for periods. But the 25-year-old has the knack of coming up with something special when it really counts.
He volleyed an extra-time winner against Crystal Palace to clinch the FA Cup in 2016 during Louis van Gaal’s final game in charge and the following season he scored in the League Cup final win.
Former Manchester United captain Michael Carrick, who has just joined the club’s coaching staff, says Lingard’s best attribute is his movement.
“He moves off the ball very well. It’s something that sounds quite simple, but it’s difficult to defend against,” he told United’s website.
“He senses where the space is and how to use it. I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s a dribbler with skills and tricks but he’s dynamic.
“How he plays, he is unique in some ways. You don’t see so much of that in the game as everyone wants to get on the ball and do something on the ball. Off the ball, he’s very effective.”
– Tough route to the top –
An FA Youth Cup winner in 2011, the livewire forward who plays with a smile on his face had to bide his time before making his name at his boyhood club, farmed out for multiple loan spells before he made his full debut at Old Trafford in August 2014.
Lingard, who admires Spain’s Andres Iniesta, rose through the ranks at United when Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney were still at the club, but it was Paul Scholes whom Lingard looked up to most.