In March 2014, England’s minds were on competing at the last World Cup finals in Brazil but Jesse Lingard was making his mark at Under-21 level under Gareth Southgate.
The Manchester United midfielder had been loaned to Brighton & Hove Albion, another step in his development, following a similar spell with Birmingham City. His amazing four-goal debut for the Midlanders demanded attention but his progress was steady, rather than spectacular.
This is something Southgate recognised back then, in an interview with ManUtd.com ahead of a European qualifier with Wales in Derby. The current manager of England's senior team offered his impressions on a player who was always highly regarded at Old Trafford but there was an understanding that patience was required.
“Jesse is somebody who I think has looked more comfortable in the environment every time he has come to us,” Southgate told us at the time.
“He had a very good spell at Birmingham, I thought, earlier in the season.”
Southgate added: ”He is an intelligent footballer. I like his understanding of the game and he can play wide, as a forward or as a no.10. He moves the ball quickly and plays and follows. He’s different to the other wide players we have got really. It will be interesting to see how his spell goes at Brighton because I think it’s a good fit for him. They play good football down there and it will suit his game.
“I think physically he’s always been a slightly late developer and that’s what has been brilliant at United over the years. They have given those lads the opportunity to have a bit of extra time as some boys are ready and mature physically at 16 but, for others, it might be 23. Jesse is still growing. You can see that in his frame but when you have got a talented footballer like he is, you give them time.”
A year later, Jesse came on as a substitute in the Under-21 European Championship and scored a magnificent winner against Sweden. The experience will have been banked and now, in Russia, he has an opportunity to illustrate how he has matured into a fine footballer under Jose Mourinho’s tutelage and how capable he is of illuminating major tournaments.
As the Three Lions prepare to kick off their World Cup campaign against Tunisia, let’s hope we see exactly how that patience – and those positive first impressions passed to Southgate – pays off.