Jose Mourinho is not the easiest of coaches to get along with in football, but that was never a problem for Jesse Lingard.
The pair enjoyed a fruitful relationship at Manchester United between 2016 and 2018, but Lingard has since been frozen out under current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Since Bruno Fernandes’ January arrival, Lingard has played 43 minutes in the Premier League without starting a single game. With just one year remaining on his current contract, and having hired super-agent Mino Raiola last January, there is a growing sense the 27-year-old could be heading for the exit doors before the transfer window closes early next month.
“The alarm bells started ringing for me when [Lingard] appointed Raiola as his agent,” former United midfielder Darren Fletcher recently told Sky Sports. “Now you don’t appoint Raiola as your agent if you’re looking to stay at a club. That suggests to me that he’s looking for a move.”
One club interested in signing Lingard is Tottenham, according to the Times, but they have a surplus of unwanted midfielders themselves. Dele Alli has been the subject of Mourinho’s criticism and was left out of the club’s matchday squad for the previous two outings amid links to Paris Saint-Germain.
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Some Spurs fans would argue that replacing one unfavoured midfielder for another is futile, but Lingard’s once prosperous relationship with Mourinho explains his attraction.
In 2017/18 season, United finished runners-up in the Premier League. Mourinho declared it one of the “biggest achievements” of his career (despite once winning the treble!) and Lingard made an eye-catching 20 ‘direct’ goal contributions across 48 games (13 goals, seven assists).
Reinvented as a No.10 under Mourinho, having predominantly played on the wing prior to his arrival, Lingard was showcasing the kind of dazzling form that caused Sir Alex Ferguson to once liken his former student to France legend Jean Tigana.
A firm England regular at the time, Lingard had truly come to the fore and highlighted the impact of his manager in his rise to prominence. “He’s given me confidence by putting faith in me to play in my preferred role in the No.10 position,” Lingard said in early 2018.
Mourinho returned the love. He started the midfielder in United’s 2017 League Cup final win over Southampton, citing his dynamism and directness as key reasons for doing so while lauding Lingard’s ability in “one-on-one situations and drive with the ball.” That decision paid dividends as Lingard scored in the showpiece.
Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford remain among United’s most valuable players, but Mourinho had them looking to Lingard as an example.
“Lingard is playing so well that Mourinho does not want to drop him, but I do not think that Lingard and Pogba can play together,” former Arsenal defender Martin Keown said in January 2018.
Mourinho once even advised Rashford to follow the Lingard’s lead when it came to goalscoring: “The team is playing progressively in a different way which makes Lingard feel even more like fish in the water. He is in these moments where things go well for him, he is the opposite of Marcus.
“He is mature, he understands the game better, we speak about the areas I want him to play according to the different positions he can play, so clearly he is becoming a player.”
Oh, how times have changed. But, if the rumoured transfer deal goes ahead, Spurs fans can at least be optimistic that if any manager can get the best out of Lingard, it’s Mourinho.