Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard is in a difficult situation with his boyhood club. He was born in Warrington and joined United as a schoolboy, going on to break into the first team and then, from there, the England team. Lingard has won trophies with Manchester United and been to the World Cup with England, but he now finds himself on the fringes of the starting eleven at Old Trafford. His current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says all the right things to the press about wanting to keep him, but he doesn’t back his words up by giving Lingard a starting role.
Most United fans probably wouldn’t have minded the idea of losing Lingard two years ago. His star had faded, and as he approached his late twenties, he looked like a player who’d failed to deliver on the potential he clearly had when he was younger. All of that changed last season when he spent the second half of the campaign at West Ham. Lingard took to life in London like a duck to water and hit the ground running, displaying the best form of his career in a claret and blue shirt to inspire the Hammers to a sixth-place finish. After failing to hit the back of the net or even find a killer pass during the past two years with Manchester United, Lingard suddenly couldn’t stop scoring or making assists. Unsurprisingly, West Ham wanted to keep him when the loan period ended. United and Solskjaer, impressed with what they’d seen, insisted that he stayed with them.
Based on Lingard’s form, most fans expected to see more of him in a red shirt this season. That hasn’t happened. Lingard makes more appearances from the bench than he did before he went on loan to West Ham, but he’s still struggling for starts. The arrival of his England teammate Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund pushed him further down the Old Trafford pecking order, as did the surprise return of his old friend Cristiano Ronaldo from Juventus. With Ronaldo and Sancho in the way, Lingard is forced to spend most of his time watching from the sidelines. At the age of 28, that’s no longer a situation he’s willing to put up with. Lingard’s Manchester United contract expires at the end of the season, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to sign an extension. That could mean he leaves for free at the end of the season – but it could also mean he leaves in January if United want to make some money rather than losing him for nothing.
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There will be no shortage of suitors for Lingard if or when he becomes available. West Ham will want to be at the front of the queue. They’ve missed him ever since he left, and they’d welcome him back with open arms. Most other Premier League clubs outside the top four would feel the same way. It’s easy to imagine Lingard slotting in well at Arsenal, Everton, or Tottenham Hotspur. Now that Newcastle United have new owners and countless millions to spend, they’d probably be in the hunt for the England man, too. None of these names are surprises, but the next one is. According to several credible journalists in both England and Spain, Jesse Lingard is wanted by Barcelona.
The idea of Barcelona wanting Lingard would have been laughable even twelve months ago, but everything has changed for both the club and the player since then. We’ve already covered how Lingard rejuvenated his career at West Ham, but Barcelona has gone the other way. They’re no longer the team that recruits huge stars from around the world for millions of pounds. They’re virtually bankrupt, and any players they do bring in have to come on either low fees or free transfers. They need players with proven Champions League and international experience for the lowest cost possible, and Lingard fits the bill perfectly. They brought in Lingard’s former United teammate Memphis Depay on a free transfer over the summer, and he’s already started hitting the back of the net at the Nou Camp. Barcelona with Lingard in midfield would be a far cry from the days of Messi, Suarez, and Neymar up front with Xavi and Iniesta behind them, but he’s a player that fits the bill for them at this point in time.
If the same reporters that claim the Barcelona link are to be believed, the Spanish side isn’t the only European giant interested in offering Lingard a change of scenery. AC Milan in Italy are also said to be watching his situation closely. A move to either team for Lingard after the two years he’s had would be the footballing equivalent of hitting the biggest online slots jackpot in the world. Perhaps that’s something he could ask his aforementioned United teammate Ronaldo about because Ronaldo’s face appears on the “Striker Goes Wild” online slots game that’s popular with football fans all over the world. It would be a one-in-a-million chance that’s suddenly paid off out of nowhere and made you a winner. That’s what every online slots player dreams of when they log into their chosen website, and it’s what’s seemingly on offer to Jesse Lingard now. He’s gone from being unwanted to being at the top of the shopping list for two of the biggest clubs in world football.
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There’s a long way to go between now and the end of the season. Manchester United might put him back in the starting lineup in an effort to keep him at the club. Solskjaer could lose his job, and his replacement might prove to be keener on keeping Lingard’s services than the Norwegian is. Lingard might ultimately decide that he’d rather not move abroad, and that going to another Premier League club or back to West Ham suits him better. Still, though, the prospect of him wearing the famous shirt of Barcelona and turning out next season for the giants of Catalonia is apparently a very real one. That’s something that almost every player dreams of no matter where they’re born. It’s hard to imagine that Lingard’s any different – and so if the chance is there, we expect him to take it. What a remarkable comeback story it would be.