3,902 games and counting. That’s the number of consecutive Manchester United matchday squads to feature at least one academy player. It’s a record you’re probably familiar with… largely because the club’s supporters scarcely miss an opportunity to celebrate it.
And who can blame them? It’s a phenomenal record which stretches back to October 1937 and given the current climate where nearly 70 percent of all players in the Premier League are foreign, it’s one to appreciate and take pride in.
However, as impressive as the numbers are by themselves, it’s players like Jesse Lingard who give the record its authenticity and credibility. Like so many academy graduates before him, his performances and promise have ensured that any appearance he makes in the first team squad are not mere formality to keep that record ticking over for the sake of prestige.
In fact, as Jose Mourinho has gradually found out this season, Lingard’s presence is more a necessity for immediate success than a means to keep the club’s longstanding traditions alive.
The midfielder has scored 12 goals in all competitions this season, that’s second only to £75million striker Romelu Lukaku. Since the start of December, Lingard’s goals have won United five points in the league. He’s proven his worth, failing to start just once in United’s last 11 Premier League outings.
And on that one occasion, he came off the bench at half-time to score a brace away to Burnley and rescue a point for his side who were 2-0 down at the break. Talk about making a statement.
His form has prompted more cries of ‘Messi Lingard’, a nickname derived from fondness and humour but with an undertone of mockery.
It’s hilarity stems from the notion that Lingard is a rather unspectacular player and associating him with arguably the best of all-time is as amusing as it is audacious.
There’s truth to it of course. Lingard is hardly among the game’s elite, despite former United assistant coach Rene Meulensteen’s questionable decision to compare him with Andres Iniesta.
The Manchester local doesn’t boast the kind of natural talent or flawless technique the aforementioned Barcelona icon is celebrated for but can nevertheless be proud of his own unique skillset.
While Lingard is a colourful character as his celebrations, social media antics and general demeanour suggest, his style of play is only subtly complimented by the occasional splash of flair. His best features on the pitch are instead his work ethic, attitude, spatial awareness, link-up play and above all, goal-scoring.
He isn’t blessed with blistering pace and you won’t be treated to a series of step-overs but he’s the kind of attacking midfielder who’s always on the same wavelength as those around him, has the uncanny ability to sniff out a goal and the technique to even belt one in from distance once within range.
It’s that penchant for goal-scoring that Lingard must harness. Consistency is key. A young Frank Lampard was written off early in his career and Harry Redknapp’s insistence that he would ‘go right to the very top’ was initially dismissed as nepotism. But the Chelsea legend’s hard work and incredible goal-scoring record set him apart.
Lingard must tread a similar path. At 25, the next few months will define his career. After already adding Alexis Sanchez to the squad, Mourinho looks certain to bring in more attacking talent over the summer with illustrious names like Antoine Griezmann, Paulo Dybala and Gareth Bale floating about.
His performances now will determine whether he goes on to play a starring role for United in the years to come or be reduced to a ‘useful’ squad player. Will he be Gary Neville or Wes Brown? Paul Scholes or Nicky Butt?
A trip to Wembley on Wednesday night will present Mourinho with his first glimpse at how Lingard fits into the team alongside a star like Sanchez and against quality opposition like Tottenham.
Strike up an understanding with the Chilean and ‘J Lings’ may only just be getting into the groove. Cue the Milly Rock music.
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Spurs go into the game unbeaten in the last five league games, but have not fared well against their fellow top-six members this campaign.
United could give a first league start to former Arsenal man Alexis Sanchez, and despite criticism of their style of play under Jose Mourinho they currently have the longest unbeaten run in the league at eight games.
Here are the other facts and stats ahead of the game.
Beckham was speaking at the launch of his new Major League Soccer franchise in Miami, the city to which he dreams of bringing some of football’s leading players.
When asked if the Portuguese was the right fit for the Old Trafford outfit, the 42-year-old voiced his support of the manager.
“Of course he’s the right fit for Manchester United, we’re talking about Jose Mourinho, he’s one of the best managers in the game,” said Beckham.
“Manchester United have had success over the last 25 years because we have had stability that has run throughout our club.
“Sir Alex Ferguson – the amount of time he was manager of the team – that’s why we were successful because we had stability that ran through the club and that’s what we need going forward.
“Everyone is going to have their own opinion of (Mourinho) as a manager, him as a person, him as an individual. But is he the right person to lead Manchester United? Yes, of course he is.”
Beckham took up the option to acquire an MLS expansion franchise at a discounted rate of $25 million US dollars when he signed for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007.
He believes his project will have the means to recruit some of the world’s top stars, but insists he wants to give the “young kids of Miami” a chance too.
“People all want to see these players play,” he said. “You talk about Cristiano (Ronaldo), you talk about Zlatan (Ibrahimovic), you talk about (Lionel) Messi. Realistically, can we afford to bring in players like that, who knows?
“We have a lot of experience and owners that are very powerful in many different areas and obviously have the expertise.
“Do we have the means to bring in these players? Yes, of course we do, but do we want to bring young talented players from Miami into this team? Of course, that’s our aim.
“This is now where the real work begins. We’ve done well to get to this point because there were certain moments where I didn’t think it was going to happen.
“The difference now is the league is a lot more stable than it was 15-20 years ago. I always knew that Miami was the right city. I said from day one this is where I want the team to be.
“People want to see players that have won everything in the game but the more interesting thing for us as an ownership group, and as a team, is to bring through the young kids of Miami.
“That will be the moment where we know we’ve succeeded.”
Provided by Press Association