Can Lingard be Manchester United’s next homegrown success?

By on November 7, 2015

In an increasingly monetized world of modern football, where transfer fees seemingly only go up and up, homegrown talent can be a very cost effective way of developing footballers. It’s an ethos that Manchester United take pride in. The Red Devils have had at least one homegrown player in their match-day squad in every game since 1937, a record that spans more than 77 years and 3,700 matches. Jesse Lingard is the latest to join the long list of academy graduates to have starred at Old Trafford, having scored his first senior goal for the club in a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion today.

All of United’s future academy graduates will inevitably be compared to the impossibly dominant Class of ’92, perhaps unfairly, and the likes of club legends Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, and the Neville brothers; while they themselves were held to the standard of the Busby Babes before them. Since, graduates such as John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Shawcross, Giuseppe Rossi, Wes Brown, Gerard Pique, Kieran Richardson, and Phil Bardsley have all played their part for United, though perhaps in less glamorous and durable fashions.

These days, there are still plenty of youngsters at Old Trafford. Lingard, Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw, Andreas Pereira, James Wilson and the on-loan Adnan Januzaj are among those spearheading a new generation of United stars. However, there is a troubling lack of established academy graduates in United’s starting eleven. Wayne Rooney and Chris Smalling come the closest, both having joined United as teenagers, but both actually shined before United picked them up.

Some claim that Ferguson set aside his famous youth policy towards the latter end of his career in return for more immediate success, and it goes without question that any manager would be more reluctant to give youth players a chance when they’ve got bags of money to spend and higher expectations to be met. That in part explains how the likes of homegrown stars Paul Pogba and Danny Welbeck have both squirmed out of United’s hands in the past few years, a worrying trend that has only compounded in United’s post-Fergie days. In David Moyes’ first tenure, he largely relied on the exuberance of Adnan Januzaj, but upon Louis van Gaal’s arrival at the club and Januzaj’s questionable dip in form, the twenty-year-old was loaned out to Borussia Dortmund this season, where he is still struggling to break into the first team. James Wilson’s fate has followed a very similar trajectory and the teenager is currently out of the first-team picture at United.

As someone once said, “you’ll never win anything with kids,” and United seem very reluctant to take a chance on their current youngsters. They’ve turned supposed long-term solutions into short-term fixes, relying on breakout seasons from Januzaj and Wilson that burn brightly but are short-lived. With Lingard having carried United through their current slump, his career seems to be taking an all-to-familiar shape.

In comparison to some of his teammates, though, Lingard isn’t even that young at the age of twenty-two. He’s been around for some time, yet is still very inexperienced at the top level; in rare footage from over a decade ago, a young Lingard plays a small-sided game with Cristiano Ronaldo. (A pre-teen Wilson just happens to score a goal, too.) Yet Phil Jones is only a year older than the Englishman and while Jones isn’t exactly United’s next big star, he has been in the periphery of the starting eleven for three full years. Martial and Shaw are both established starters at the club having commanded colossal transfer fees and both are also more than two years younger than Lingard.

Ferguson, however, will claim he’s right on schedule. “Jesse Lingard is going to be some player,” he said three years ago, according to The Mirror, with surprising foresight.

“He is 19, came through our youth system and is built like Jean Tigana was for France.

“But he never got into the limelight there until he was about 24, and I think that will be the same with Lingard.

“He will become a player when he’s 22 or so. As an attacking midfielder he has got a really good talent. I think he will be a player we have high hopes for, definitely.”

Ferguson said that in 2012, before Lingard was shipped off on a series of relatively disappointing loan spells the Championship. He has only started to show some of the promise that Ferguson predicted this season.

Yet Lingard’s future is still far from certain. Memphis Depay will almost certainly retake his starting position at some point and Shaw’s return from injury will also change the picture. Pereira will also give Lingard a run for his money. Without commanding a big name or price tag, Van Gaal will suffer no pressure from the fans to keep Lingard around when his breakout form eventually takes a turn for the worse. There was a reason that Bebe, who turned pro at a lowly second-division side in Portugal only a year before being picked up by United, was on United’s books nearly as long as Tom Cleverly.

Of course, Januzaj will eventually return to Old Trafford and Lingard might not have what it takes to cut out a consistent career at the top anyway. But recent history has signaled a worrying trend for young stars at United. As the club search for the next Class of ’92, their academy has come under heavy scrutiny of late, but their managers have astonishingly escaped unblemished. Who knows how Giggsy, Scholesy and the like would have faired in the current day or what Welbeck, Januzaj, Pogba, Wilson and Lingard could do if they are given the freedom of their predecessors.

Hompage photo credit: By Geoffrey Chisnall (arcainus) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

About Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan, founder of Football Every Day, lives and breaths football from the West Coast of the United States in California. Aside from founding Football Every Day in January of 2013, Alex has also launched his own journalism career and hopes to help others do the same with FBED. He covers the San Jose Earthquakes as a beat reporter for and his work has also been featured in the BBC's Match of the Day Magazine.