It is impossible to overestimate human capacity for consternation and affront; to be certain, simply consult the state of our planet. But no field of endeavour incites quite the same indignance as football, in which players of rare flair and pathological perseverance are regularly derided as frauds, wage-thieves and clowns.
As such, it was unsurprising when Manchester United’s decision to award Jesse Lingard a new contract was greeted with widespread scorn; apparently, two cup final goals inside a year do not incontrovertible proof of usefulness represent. Likewise, his appreciation by footballing thinkers as disparate and legendary as Alex Ferguson, Paul Scholes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho is also not persuasive, because, well, see above.
This is not to say that Lingard – though capable of brilliance – is a brilliant player. But the best teams have neither the best player in every position, nor the second-best player understudying every position. Rather, they have a variety of options and alternatives which fit particular circumstances, as well as able deputies for when the first choices are unavailable. Now, it may well be difficult to grasp why Lingard has been so often preferred to Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but it is still foolish to conflate what he does with who he isn’t.
Lingard’s Wembley contributions are not coincidental. Even when not playing well, he is brave and direct, prepared to run with the ball, without the ball, and shoot from distance – important qualities in any squad, let alone one as risk-averse as United's. It is for this reason that opportunities fall to him, and when they do he responds with conviction, an attitude which has compiled him a collection of lovely finishes and horrendous misses
Undoubtedly, his tally of six goals in 32 starts last season, five in 20 this, is not good enough, but for all the inconsistency of his end product, the excellence of his movement is uniform. Whether on the counter or against a set defence, he creates angles and space from a variety of starting positions off either foot.
The history of Manchester United is littered with contributions from men who, though not key, played key roles at key times. After Nemanja Vidic established himself as Rio Ferdinand’s partner at the start of 2006-07, Wes Brown barely played at centre-back until the end of the following season, when, in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final, he produced one of the greatest performances in the club’s history.
And there are plenty of others who, at various points in their careers, were neither regulars nor elite but no less significant for that fact; including Mark Robins, Brian McClair, Phil Neville, Teddy Sheringham, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Diego Forlan, Darren Fletcher, Ji-Sung Park, John O’Shea and Ryan Giggs.
In general, the best United sides have combined three aspects: expensive signings, clever signings, and players from the youth team. Since October 1937, every matchday squad has featured at least one homegrown product, and that facet is integral to the club’s spirit, swagger and success.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: In defence of Jesse Lingard: Why his £100k-a-week deal makes sense