Jesse Lingard must hope his decision not to join West Ham does not wreck his World Cup dream

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 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

The London air clearly agrees with Jesse Lingard — which is precisely why his decision not to push for a move to West Ham in the summer remains so baffling.

Two goals against albeit limited opposition in Andorra on Sunday underlined the resurgence that began with his January loan move to the London Stadium, rescued his England career and transformed him from a punchline to one of the most influential players in the Premier League during the second half of last season.

In 16 starts for David Moyes he scored nine goals. Upon his England recall in March, he was the best player on the pitch in a 5-0 win against San Marino.

There was an element of irony in the fact he imitated Cristiano Ronaldo’s famous goal celebration when opening the scoring after 18 minutes yesterday.

The Manchester United great’s second coming at Old Trafford only further limits Lingard’s chances.

In reality, Lingard should be so lucky to think his opportunities are so closely linked to Ronaldo. By the time he made his New Year switch to West Ham he had played just three times that season; twice in the Carabao Cup and once in the FA Cup.

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That was a United, remember, without five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo and £73million summer signing Jadon Sancho.

Staying at United feels like a backwards step but Lingard may well have the last laugh. Perhaps he will force his way past Bruno Fernandes or Paul Pogba for the right to play behind Ronaldo.

Maybe he will dislodge any one of Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood or Anthony Martial on either flank — and if so then England will be the biggest winners of all.

The more likely scenario is that he is pushed to the fringes once more at United, leaving Southgate with no choice but to stick to his edict of leaving out players who are not getting regular game-time at club level.

With the Carabao Cup and memories of this performance still fresh in the mind when Southgate picks his next squad, Lingard should hold on to his place for the October internationals. Perhaps the same applies for November, but as autumn turns to winter it is hard to imagine him being the same player as the one who has oozed such confidence and looked like a man reborn since the turn of the year.

He is the player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer originally planned to carry out the Fernandes role before virtually freezing him out; the player who was a regular starter during England’s run to the World Cup semi-final in 2018 before finding himself behind all or any of Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, James Maddison and Sancho at various points since.

 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Never more so than in four heady months at West Ham did football at large finally ‘get’ Jesse Lingard: fast, clever, quick-footed and deadly in front of goal.

That was what was on show at Wembley as England eventually gave the Three Lions fans the party they were hoping for.

It was Lingard who contributed more than anyone to the 4-0 win with two goals and an assist.

His best moment — a first-half dart beyond static defenders and a sumptuous lobbed goal without breaking stride — was ruled out for offside, but perfectly demonstrated the confidence coursing through him.

Which is why it would be such a waste to throw all of that away now with so little time to cement a place ahead of next year’s World Cup.

For the sake of Lingard and England the hope is that this does not turn out to be a summer of regret.

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