It’s difficult to think of a more archetypal example of the modern footballer than Wes Ham’s Jesse Lingard.
Traditionalists, otherwise known as ‘yer da’, made him a symbol for everything wrong with today’s game whether it be clothing lines, choreographed celebrations and overall ‘flashiness’.
In case you haven’t noticed, Lingard isn’t Terry Butcher. He comes from a less macho world of football, one with softer tackles and bigger outbursts of pain.
But as the Manchester United loanee, 28, returns to form at West Ham after two years in the wilderness at Old Trafford, it’s about time we changed the narrative.
It wouldn’t be at all surprising if some fans revelled in his downfall at United and told all their followers how much they were enjoying it on Twitter.
We seem to accept social media abuse comes with the territory of being a professional footballer, all of whom should have thick enough skin to deal with it.
Lingard has been at Man United since the age of seven, written off before proving to be quite good, and then written off all over again.
In other words, he’s had his fair share of abuse. But Lingard is part of a new generation of footballers, who understand that it’s alright not to have thick skin all the time, and talking about your problems works better than ‘manning up’.
The England international opened up about mental health struggles last year, urging others to do the same, as his mother battled with depression.
Much like COVID-19 has put many of our lives on hold, Lingard’s career stalled for about two years leading up to 2021, and his discovery of a fresh perspective is one for the times.
Having broken into the United first team and then starred for England at the 2018 World Cup, Lingard suddenly couldn’t get a kick for much of the two-and-a-half seasons which followed, becoming a forgotten man for club and country.
Once considered a generational talent, the new crown jewel of United’s famous academy, Lingard didn’t score a Premier League goal between December 2018 and July 2020.
The talent was always there, but it felt like Lingard had lost his sparkle, that individualism which came from total confidence in himself – regardless of what other people might think.
A new opportunity at West Ham brought about a chance to regain that belief – and he took a new perspective along with him to east London, inspired by Sunday Times bestselling author Vex King.
‘Good Vibes, Good Life’, the book Lingard credits for his newfound outlook, is all about internal healing inspired by self-love, channeling wellness to reignite yourself – much like the midfielder is doing at West Ham.
He said recently: “It’s really good about law of attraction, law of vibration and how the positive energy you put out into the universe, you can get that back.
“For me, it’s just about having people around me who can give off that good energy and put me in a higher place.”
He’s got plenty of those at high-flying West Ham, including forward Jarrod Bowen and assistant coach Stuart Peace, who both recently told talkSPORT what a joy it is to be in Lingard’s company.
Bowen said: “Jesse’s a great kid, off the pitch as well. On the pitch, you see his quality. He’s getting that love of playing week in, week out – which is probably what he needed.
“I think you can tell he’s enjoying his time here and the games he has played, he’s made a massive difference for us.”
Meanwhile, Pearce believes the move to West Ham has been equally beneficial for Lingard as it has been for the Hammers.
Pearce told talkSPORT: “He’s a smashing kid. I’ve spoken to Gareth [Southgate] and Steve Holland about him, David Moyes knew him before from Man United. He’s fitted in brilliantly for us.
“He’s giving energy, goals, assists in these early games. And the flip side of that is that it’s a good move for him.
“It has fitted in nicely with where he is in his career at this moment in time.”
In just three Premier League games, not only is Lingard back among the goals and assists, all the antics that come with him have also returned.
He scored again for The Hammers, this time in the London derby win against Tottenham to add to the talk of J Lingz playing for England at the Euros this summer.
Ex-England striker Darren Bent told talkSPORT: “He’s certainly given himself an outside chance of making the England squad.
“He’s on the pitch playing really well, you never know because he’s never really let Southgate down.
“He’s got the trust of the manager, and for me, when I watch him play, he looks more motivated than ever.
“It’s like people have been criticising him for so long, saying he’s lost his way and he’s nowhere near the England squad.
“He’s come back, West Ham are flying, he wants to show people he can still play, he’s still a good player.
“You’d have to say, on current form in the No.10 position, he’s got to be in the discussion.”
If Lingard does come back from the brink to star for England and Man United again, it will be because he is indeed a symbol of the modern football era – but for all the right reasons.