Having not started a Premier League game in Manchester United colors for more than two years, it appeared it was a matter of when, opposed to if, Jesse Lingard would leave Old Trafford in the January transfer window.
But as the clock struck 11pm on Monday evening, signaling the end of the window, United’s social media accounts remained silent.
Lingard had stayed put.
Despite significant interest from Newcastle — who were desperate to get a deal over the line for the England international — and a late attempt from former loan club West Ham, Lingard was unable to secure the exit that almost everyone expected he would do.
It means he now faces the prospect of running his United contract down until the summer by taking up a watching brief, certainly if the precedent that has been set so far this season continues.
The United academy graduate, who could have been sold last summer for a significant transfer fee following an outstanding loan spell with West Ham in early 2021, has played just 14 times in all competitions this season, starting two games — one of which was a dead -rubber clash with Young Boys in the Champions League in Ralf Rangnick’s second game in charge.
With that in mind, United’s decision to play hard-ball with Newcastle and block Lingard an exit on the final day of the window — especially after Rangnick had given him the green light to depart — is yet more mismanagement from the club.
After all that’s happened this season, do they really believe he can still play an important part between now and the end of the season?
The challenge for Lingard is to now show that he can do exactly that, even if opportunities in recent months have proven to be extremely limited.
Lingard has the versatility to play anywhere across the forward line, even if he is most commonly associated with the attacking-midfield position. In 14 appearances this season, Lingard, as per transfermarkt, has played as a right-winger on four occasions, played on the left three times, as a centre-forward twice, as an attacking-midfielder once and as a second-striker once — highlighting his versatility at the top end of the pitch.
Considering United’s recent switch back to a more recognizable 4-2-3-1 (or 4-3-3- depending on your viewpoint) has seen Bruno Fernandes rediscover some form, the likelihood of Lingard displacing him in the No.10 position is unlikely. However, the possibility of injuries creeping in during the second half of the campaign could open the door for Lingard to put himself in the shop window ahead of becoming a free agent in the summer.
Donny van de Beek is now on loan at Everton, so Lingard could well be the second choice No.10.
Anthony Elanga, for now, has nailed down a place on the left-flank, even though Marcus Rashford’s two goals in his last two games will apply pressure to the Swede and alter Rangnick’s thinking. But Lingard could be in direct competition with Jadon Sancho for a place on the right, even though he is not usually associated with that role.
However, statistics show Lingard has played almost 100 times on the right during his career, scoring 14 goals and claiming 12 assists, suggesting that he has the potential to do a job out wide and supply the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani with ammunition in the middle.
United are still alive in kicking in the Champions League and the FA Cup, while they also have the task of getting through another 16 Premier League games between now and May. Lingard, you would think, will get opportunities to prove his worth, even if he has to remain patient.
Friday evening’s FA Cup fourth-round clash with Middlesbrough is a good opportunity for Rangnick to hand him a rare start and to let him try and get back to the levels he produced at West Ham 12 months ago.
United know they will lose him for nothing in the summer, despite having two opportunities to secure a financial injection for him. They now have to justify why they made the decision to block him from sealing a deadline day departure by giving him what he deserves.
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