Jesse Lingard has opened up in a piece for the Player’s Tribune about how Sir Alex Ferguson predicted he would start playing for the Manchester United first team aged 22 or 23.
The youngster has been on the club’s books since the age of seven and had a series of loan spells at Derby County, Birmingham City, Leicester and Brighton and Hove Albion before making his senior debut against Swansea aged 22, just as the Gaffer predicted.
14 months later, he returned to the first team away at Everton, and since then has served as a regular for Man United and, more recently, the England national team.
Writing in a piece reflecting on his career, Lingard noted how a meeting with Sir Alex aged 16 changed his life forever.
“Honestly, I don’t think I’d be here if it weren’t for Sir Alex,” he wrote. “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.”
Ferguson knew Lingard had something special. Aged 16, the time you go from promising youngster to fully fledged professional with a contract, many wrote Lingard off because of his diminutive stature.
But Ferguson didn’t.
Moreover, what he said to Lingard in that meeting ten years ago was prophetic. Louis van Gaal saw the talent there, too, and started properly accomodating the Englishman in 2015, aged 23. It was at that age when he begun to combine his ability in possession with the kind of explosive, cannon-ball like thrust he brings down the middle. By the time Lingard scored the winner in the 2016 FA Cup final, there were no doubts left.
Jose Mourinho saw his talent as well. So did Gareth Southgate. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knew what Lingard was about before must of us.
The club’s next permanent manager, whoever it may be, will no doubt take the same view of Lingard.