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Jesse Lingard: the player every team needs

Saturday 4th March 2017
Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan: players with flair, creativity and the ability to get bums off seats, as they say. However, Jesse Lingard is a different prospect, and suffers for it; suffers wrongly, by the way.

Manchester United fans have become distracted by the glamour of their attacking line and now erroneously believe that Lingard should be nowhere near United's starting eleven.

Lingard is overshadowed by the qualities of his attacking peers, who have the ability to change games. As a result, Lingard is seen as superfluous to requirements. But, every team needs someone like Lingard, especially a United team managed by Jose Mourinho.
A late bloomer, the 24-year-old only really broke into the United team last season under Louis van Gaal and enjoyed the chance to impress on numerous occasions. Several forgettable loan spells appeared to suggest he had little future at Old Trafford, but as Sir Alex Ferguson - ever shrewd - told the young Mancunian, he would take a little longer to develop into a professional footballer than his peers.

Lingard isn't physically imposing. Nor is he beguiling or skilful. But this isn't his game. Under Mourinho he has found a role that suits him - one of consistency, hard work and commitment.

Lingard is willing to run off the ball and make space for his team-mates, willing to track back and help out his full-back, willing to hold onto the ball and offload it to the more talented of the United squad.

He occupies a niche role in this United team and plays an important role: its importance has gone unnoticed purely because of its subtle responsibilities.

Whenever Lingard plays, he is normally positioned on the flanks. He has good close-ball control and can dribble effectively and can deliver precise crosses. Again, though, this doesn't grab the headlines. The United winger's game is predicated on one of hold-up play and ball retention - which is a little different for a winger -  but is nonetheless crucial. His ability to retain possession means he provides a subtle balance for the United attack. In a United forward line that involves players who frequently lose the ball, due to its adventurous and attacking nature - not a bad thing - Lingard's nous for keeping hold of the ball is very important.

It means he provides a platform, a sturdy foundation from which the rest can flourish. As stated before, it is slightly unusual for a winger to do this as one normally associates such play with central midfielders. However, in a United team that is beginning to show the fingerprints of Mourinho's philosophy, Lingard's willingness to track back and become an outlet from which pressure can be relieved has meant he's a frequent starter.
Perhaps Lingard's effect on this United team will never fully be appreciated, but it's obvious Mourinho realises it. The academy product will rarely get the chance to light up a match and turn game changer - although he has done this on a few occasions, last year's FA Cup being one - but if he continues to quietly ply his trade and graft, he will manifest himself into a Mourinho favourite.

In an era when every Manchester United fan prides themselves on having a rich academy, it remains bizarre that Lingard is the target of constant criticism. His role is clandestine but vital.
Michael Jones

Football & political writer with a predictable love of everything retro. English Literature undergraduate at the University of Exeter, looking to pursue a career in sports journalism. For a collection of my work, visit. http://mikejonesmedia.wordpress.com

Follow me on twitter: @jonesmichael_97

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