Home » The “non-footballing footballer” Jesse Lingard turns 31 with no club in sight

The “non-footballing footballer” Jesse Lingard turns 31 with no club in sight

by Alex Browne
Jesse Lingard

Jesse Lingard turned 31 years old yesterday and the former Manchester United man is still without a club.

The Athletic has gone into detail on the player’s current situation and claims, “he must realise it is not going to be easy shifting some of the perceptions that come from being a non-footballing footballer”.

The article claims that the player has been widely liked and “automatically commands respect among his fellow pros” due to the trophies and World Cup semi-final experience he has under his belt.

Nonetheless, the outlet muses, “many others will be wondering how a player with Lingard’s record of achievement has spent so long without a club and seems less troubled by that situation than you might assume”.

The Warrington-born player last played a competitive game in April and his last 90 minute game was all the way back in August 2022 for Nottingham Forest. Before that, you have to go back another 15 months to find the previous one, while he was on loan to West Ham from United.

This is a breath-takingly little amount of football for a player who should have been entering his prime in his late twenties.

Although, it has always been clear that the sport may not always be Lingard’s only priority, to put it in kind words. For a long time, the Manchester United academy product has paid a lot of attention to his off the field commitments such as his JLINGZ brand.

He is also viewed as jovial character with his infamous dance celebrations when scoring like his moonwalk versus Arsenal. However, this can work in two ways. When you are playing well, it is embraced, when you are not, pundits and fans will use it as a stick to beat you with. It is safe to say since the player opted not to extend his stay at West Ham in 2021, it has very much been the latter.

In fact, it is easy to forget the player Lingard was. He scored the winning goal in the FA Cup final in 2016 and then also scored in the Community Shield victory of the same year. He completed a Wembley hat-trick in February 2017 by finding the net again against Southampton as United won the League Cup 3-2. Topically, Lingard was actually the last United player to score at Anfield in 2018. Hopefully that statistic no longer stands true on Sunday night.

All in all, the player played 232 times for his boyhood club and even scored 13 goals in the 2017-2018 season. Injuries, mental health issues and poor decisions have plagued his career since.

After falling out of favour at Old Trafford under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the attacking midfielder enjoyed a successful loan spell at West Ham in 2020-2021 scoring an impressive nine goals in just 16 appearances. (All statistics via transfermarkt.com)

Unfortunately, the player’s career has been downhill ever since and punctuated with wrong career decisions. These days Lingard can be found “pitching up at a sports centre in Newton Heath — the area of north Manchester where United were founded — to go through his drills, work up a sweat and then upload the pictures to his social-media channels with snappy phrases such as ‘keep pushing’ or ‘positivity and progress'”.

The 2011 Youth Cup winner rejected the chance to stay at West Ham in the summer of 2021 in favour of giving it a another go at United. Moreover, when he left United as a free agent, he chose to go to Nottingham Forest where he only scored two goals in 20 appearances.

Despite having training sessions in the Middle East and West Ham, it seems the player’s desire is to now try his luck in America in the MLS. However, their season does not begin until February. Additionally, The Athletic says that those in the industry are now asking questions such as “why is somebody with his ability out of work? Does he not care? Does this not hurt his professional pride? Because nobody wants to be a non-footballing footballer, surely?”.

Even though these questions are possibly unfair, the outlet does state that “there is nothing orthodox about a footballer spending half a year, or possibly longer, out of the game”.

The piece finishes with the social media “cesspit” Lingard has to navigate everyday where he is routinely labelled a “shirker and a waster, that he has thrown his career away”. The truth is modern footballers are mega rich people who do not need to make an instant choice in their career. Especially someone who has had to deal with the mental health issues he has had to. Perhaps finally he is doing the right thing by being selective over his next destination.

“The next few weeks will tell us more. It all comes down to Lingard’s priorities and that is the biggest question when, ultimately, 31 is far too young for any player to be talked about in the past tense”.

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