Jesse Lingard exclusive: I felt like I deserved a send-off at Manchester United. Hopefully it can happen on my return
| Last updated
“It was the last home game and he didn't put me on. I just thought, can you not put me on, even if it was just for the last five minutes so I can clap the fans and have a send-off? I felt like I deserved that, to be honest. But it didn't happen. Hopefully I can go back there and do it.”
For the first time since it happened, Jesse Lingard is speaking publicly about the evening of May 2, 2022, when interim manager Ralf Rangnick decided against bringing him on as a second-half substitute in Manchester United's final home game of last season.
Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic, who were both penned to leave in the summer, featured in United's starting line-up against Brentford that night. Fred and Phil Jones – another player who was expected to leave Old Trafford – made entrances from the subs bench.
And then, as the home side held a comfortable 3-0 lead, Edinson Cavani was given his chance to say goodbye to the Stretford End when he replaced Anthony Elanga. To the surprise of many, an upset Lingard left without a proper send-off.
After progressing through the club's youth ranks before making 231 appearances for United – a 22-year stay that featured FA Cup and Europa League wins – it was a tough moment to take. “I was itching to get on," he tells SPORTbible. "I was trying but, like I say, it didn't happen.”
Ultimately, it denied an academy product the opportunity to say goodbye to a fan base that gave him so much.
Rangnick defended the decision, saying he played Lingard more than previous managers Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Michael Carrick. He also mentioned him missing a game against Chelsea a week earlier because of personal reasons, as well as being absent from training.
But still, some were understandably frustrated by the call. Lingard's brother, Louie Scott, branded the club "classless" for not giving him a send-off. “Twenty years of blood, sweat and tears, four domestic trophies, three cup final goals. Not even a farewell," he said. Many agreed with the sentiment.
But seven months on from that frustrating Monday night in Manchester, the former United midfielder is looking forward to returning to Old Trafford on December 27, when Nottingham Forest make the 80-mile trip up north. “It'll be good to hopefully get a send-off," Lingard says.
"Obviously I didn't do one last time. So, It'll be good to see the fans and my old teammates again. But we’ll be going there to win. It's not about seeing friends again. It's an important game, which we need to win.”
At the end of June, Jesse Lingard was about to leave Carrington for the final time when he bumped into first-team physio Richard Merron.
The 30-year-old midfielder had previously managed to contain his emotions after spending hours around teammates and staff at the training ground that week. But a brief, yet heartfelt conversation with Merron — a friend who earned a promotion to United's first-team at the same time as Lingard — flicked a switch.
“It didn't hit me until afterwards really," he says. "I remember we trained and stuff, like a normal day, and then Richard came up to me and said, 'I'll always remember your FA Cup goal and when we won the Youth Cup.' And then it suddenly hit me.
"That little comment set me off straight away. I got into my car and started crying. I cried all the way home. That was hard."
Those raw emotions would linger for a number of weeks. As he speaks about his final days at Manchester United – and the tough times that followed – he recalls a conversation with his brother after his contract expired in June.
"He said to me, 'How does it feel leaving United after 22 years?' and I just broke down. I started crying again," Lingard says. "I was there pretty much all my life. All I've ever known is Manchester United. To leave was emotional and it lasted quite a bit. But eventually you find a new team and a new set of teammates.
"To move on can be difficult at first but eventually, it's got to happen to get game time.”
The subject of game time is a recurring theme throughout our chat. Lingard left the club because of too many broken promises surrounding time spent on the pitch. Ultimately, his decision to leave boiled down to needing regular first-team minutes.
“It was game time," Lingard says when asked for the main reason behind his departure. "It's always going to be difficult playing at United but the lack of game time was the main thing. I just wanted to play football and that was the main aim. There was no point in staying there if I wasn't going to play.
"I wanted to go to a new team, play regularly and be happy on the pitch.”
It's fair to say Lingard had plenty of suitors in the summer window. Juventus, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain were all reportedly interested in making a move, as were Newcastle, who attempted to sign him on loan from United in January.
But it was newly-promoted Nottingham Forest that managed to get a deal over the line, with the Premier League outfit handing over a one-year contract.
Miltiadis Marinakis, the son of Forest owner Evangelos, played a big part in convincing the player to join, as did manager Steve Cooper, who pulled out all the stops to make it happen.
“I thought they [Forest] showed so much eagerness and love towards me," Lingard says. "The manager came to my house. The owners wanted to fly me to Greece to get the deal over the line. When a team shows that much love, it's really hard to say no, to be honest.
"I wanted a different challenge," he adds. "It's a newly-promoted team. It's another chapter in my career. I'm embracing it and I'm loving it at the moment, especially the past two league games against Tottenham and Crystal Palace. We played really well. We just need to keep that momentum up.”
Lingard, who managed to get on the scoresheet in their EFL Cup game against Blackburn on Wednesday night, will be hoping to continue that streak in front of goal as Gareth Southgate watches on.
There were no conversations with Southgate ahead of this winter's World Cup in Qatar, but he was named in England's provisional 55-man squad before it was cut down to 26. "A text message went out saying I was in the 55-man list," he says. "But there was no direct conversation. We spoke before the Euros but that was it really.”
Lingard adds: “I like him [Southgate]. He believes in man-management. He wants to get to know you as a person and what you're like off the field. He believes in family values, as well. Every tournament, you’ll see the families are always looked after. He wants to get to know them and I think that's really important."
Family means everything to Lingard, who became the main carer for his younger siblings, Jasper and Daisy, as his mother received treatment at a mental health facility in 2019. He not only had to look after the pair, who were aged 14 and 11 at the time, but he was also responsible for looking after his one-year-old daughter, Hope.
The worry and stress took its toll on Lingard’s on-field performances and in March 2020, Jesse would hit “rock bottom” after receiving abuse from Manchester United fans as he boarded the team bus following their FA Cup win against Derby in March 2020. On top of that, a constant stream of online abuse had knocked his confidence.
But after a difficult period at United, he joined West Ham on six-month loan and flourished in East London, scoring nine goals in 16 appearances. Lingard also opened up about his own mental health struggles at the time, which helped massively.
“I'm good. Really good," he says ahead of his return to Old Trafford. "I'm in a better space mentally. My family is good, which is the most important thing. My daughter, Hope, makes me happy. She's going to be a character as well. She's only four but she acts like she's already 12. She plays a big role in my life.
He adds: "I can really kick on and concentrate on football now. When things are going on behind closed doors, it’s difficult, and people didn't know what was going on while I was still trying to play football. When lockdown came around, it was kind of like a reset to go and kick on again; like I did at West Ham.”
It’s an exciting time for Lingard off the pitch. He continues to elevate his JLINGZ brand and has recently linked up with gaming metaverse platform Virtua as a way of connecting with fans. He wants them to understand who the real Jesse is, and not just Lingard the footballer.
"It'll be a good chance to meet new people," he says. “I'm always looking for that next opportunity to interact with fans.”
Lingard will see some familiar faces when he returns to where it all began on Tuesday night. Towards the end of his time at boyhood club United, it felt like a flow of negative stories overshadowed what he’d managed to achieve throughout a successful 22-year spell. Still, he has no regrets.
“Everyone has got different paths,” he says. “I went on loan five times and that was my path to get where I wanted to be. It's a lot of sacrifice and hard work and it can be difficult at times. Trying to break through at United was one of one of the hardest things to do, but to finally do it was amazing. I wouldn't change a thing.”
Now, he just wants to say a proper goodbye on December 27, when he walks out of the Old Trafford tunnel in a different shade of red.
“It'll be good to hopefully get a send-off," he says with a smile.
Featured Image Credit: Alamy - jesselingard/Instagram
Topics: Jesse Lingard, Manchester United, Spotlight, Premier League, Nottingham Forest