Minutes into the second half of West Ham’s clash with Tottenham, Jesse Lingard sauntered through unchallenged to fire a superb left foot effort past Hugo Lloris into the bottom corner.
It was a precise finish that arced away from the World Cup winning goalkeeper, putting West Ham 2-0 up and firmly on course to regain a surprise place in the Premier League’s top four.
Lingard’s joy was short lived after the raising of the assistant referee’s flag, but a minute later delirium – the modern day COVID inspired version of it, that is – was restored as VAR intervened and ruled that he and Pablo Fornals had both been onside in the build up to the goal.
What followed was one of the more entertaining moments of what’s been an utterly bizarre season, as Lingard tuned up the band with some of his West Ham teammates to celebrate the goal in truly sensational fashion.
The nature of the celebration also offered a glimpse into how well Lingard has settled into his new surroundings, after moving to the London Stadium on loan at the back end of the January transfer window.
Out of favour at Old Trafford, Lingard’s career at Manchester United had stalled and was evidently going nowhere. For the good of his career he needed to move on, be it temporarily or on a permanent basis.
A number of clubs were interested in striking a loan deal, but in the end it was West Ham – and the opportunity to link up with former manager David Moyes – that won the day, securing Lingard a move to the capital until the end of the season.
His arrival at West Ham didn’t actually sit well with all of the club’s supporters, as many had been crying out for the club to replace the departed Sebastien Haller with a recognised striker. But many also felt it was a shrewd bit of business, and a deal that was relatively risk free given Lingard was only joining until the end of the season.
A day before the deal was announced, 90min revealed that Lingard had been frustrated by Manchester United playing hardball in negotiations. West Ham had laid down their terms and were willing to pay the requested loan fee, but there was one detail that the clubs couldn’t agree on.
The Hammers wanted an option to buy included in the deal, the Red Devils did not.
Ultimately, it was United who got their way, with Lingard’s deal completed without said clause being included in the loan contract. Now, some four weeks on, it’s easy to see why West Ham – and perhaps Moyes, specifically – had been looking to ensure they had the chance to sign him permanently.
Lingard’s start to his West Ham career has been nothing short of sensational. He scored twice on his debut against Aston Villa in a comprehensive 3-1 win, and his goal against Tottenham on Sunday helped make it 10 Premier League points out of a possible 12 since he came into the side.
That run of form has continued the Hammers’ superb season, and they currently sit fourth in the Premier League on 45 points – six more than they achieved throughout the whole of last season, picked up in 14 games less.
Some would argue that West Ham were in a purple patch prior to Lingard’s arrival, and they would be right. But Lingard has influenced further positive change at the club, and has done the one thing that many supporters hoped he would – relieve the goalscoring burden and weight of expectation on star duo Michail Antonio and Tomas Soucek.
They’ve been the ones to carry West Ham’s goal threat for much of the season, but Lingard has added a new dynamic going forward – one that has opened up new ways for West Ham to score, and one that has allowed the creativity of Said Benrahma – who after a tricky start to life at West Ham is starting to settle down – to flourish.
He’s also brought an added energy and buzz to a side who undoubtedly have worked on their fitness this season. West Ham aren’t the most frenetic pressers in the Premier League, but they do work harder than most think to close the ball down – and as of right now, you’d do well to find anyone who covers more distance than Lingard, who has shown incredible fitness levels considering he’d barely kicked a ball at Manchester United for six months.
Furthermore, Lingard’s infectiously cheeky personality and uplifting character appears to have lifted morale at the club. Declan Rice confirmed after the Tottenham game that in his four years with the first team, West Ham’s dressing room has never been happier – fuelled by a real togetherness and love for one another. That isn’t solely down to the man from Manchester, but you only need to look at the aforementioned celebration to see he’s already a huge part of the club.
Ultimately, while this is all positive news on the surface, there is a concern that West Ham don’t have a shoo-in opportunity to sign Lingard permanently.
If there’s one thing we all know, excellent performance after excellent performance generates interest from elsewhere, and there will be plenty of people sitting up to take notice of how this loan spell is going for Lingard.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already intimated that he sees Lingard’s long-term future at Old Trafford, despite freezing the 28-year-old out of his plans. While the Norwegian’s comments should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt, given the talented abundance of riches at his disposal, it would be hard to overlook for too long the impact that Lingard is having at West Ham.
Whatever happens, we can likely all agree on one thing. West Ham will pursue the permanent signing of Lingard at the end of the season – for their sake, and for their supporters, they’ll hope that missing out on an option to buy clause doesn’t come back to haunt them.