I remember the first time I interviewed Jesse Lingard. It was one of, if not the earliest, of his media assignments at Manchester United and conducted at the Academy building at the Aon Training Complex.
To ensure the noise levels were kept down, it was decided to speak to him actually on the indoor pitch, even if there were no lights on and the huge space was completely empty. In the days before filming most of our content, it was only captured on a dictaphone and we discussed his season and what might lie in store for his future.
The year was 2011, after he had tasted glory by lifting the FA Youth Cup with the Reds. Fast forward to 2018 and, due to the annual club staff summer party being held at the same venue, fate would conspire that I watched him score his first World Cup finals goal on that same pitch, courtesy of an app on my phone.
There were other people scattered around the cavernous area – mainly parents keeping an eye on kids, as I was – but my other eye was seeing this United Academy product produce a moment of sheer quality on the biggest stage. It was surreal, not just because it was virtually the same spot where that first interview had taken place, but also because most of the people in the room were blissfully unaware of what Jesse had just pulled off in Russia.
I decided to look back on the transcript of that interview with the rookie who spoke of the bulk of the team being together since the age of 11 and achieving success with the younger age groups. Fascinatingly, he also touched on his own development and growing in confidence.
”We used to find it a bit intimidating really when we were younger against some teams compared to now, with the size we are,” he said.
“We can back ourselves because we’ve been working in the gym. I definitely feel strong enough to compete. I’m lifting heavier weights now and am pushing on.”
It would take more time for Jesse to become ready for senior football at the top level and he confirmed he’d met Sir Alex Ferguson about the plans for him. A loan move was the logical next step and he actually would end up having four stints away from Old Trafford.
”Initially, I didn’t want to go on loan as I will miss the lads here, despite it being good experience,” he said at the time.
“But there are things like I can’t cook whatsoever. I’ve got to be independent and learn how to grow up, so now it’d be a good experience for me to go out on loan.”
If there were still doubts over his physicality at that point, there no such concerns over his talent. The midfielder declared he’d been watching experienced players shooting and trying to add that to his game. He’d also been practising after training.
Maybe that is the key to this latest chapter in the Jesse Lingard success story. All that hard work and hours and hours of endeavour has helped get him this platform to showcase his skills. He’s still only 25 but has achieved more than most footballers do in a career – a winner in an FA Cup final and now a goal at the World Cup are stand-out moments on his CV.
In the changing rooms at the Academy building, the teamsheets from lower-age matches at the end of last season were still pinned to the walls. Who knows, there could be a name on there who will go on to star at the 2022 or even 2026 World Cup. That’s the beauty of Manchester United and the Academy system here. And why Lingard will continue to be an inspiration to all those kids hoping to follow in his footsteps.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.