JESSE Lingard had options. West Ham chased the 29-year-old for a year with Newcastle United also linked as he left Manchester United as a free agent. Some suggested the midfielder would be best served moving to Serie A, where there was reported interested, while a number of MLS teams made a sales pitch. It was therefore surprising when Nottingham Forest landed Lingard.
Forest had already made notable moves in the transfer market this summer ahead of their first season back in the Premier League for 23 years. Steve Cooper’s side have signed Dean Henderson on loan from Manchester United with Taiwo Awoniyi, Moussa Niakhate and Omar Richards arriving from the Bundesliga. Over £70m has been spent on 10 new players.
However, none of these additions are as noteworthy as that of Lingard. At his best, the 29-year-old is a difference maker at the highest level. Last season was something of a write-off as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick froze Lingard out of the Manchester United first team, but his talent can’t be denied.
Jesse Lingard won Premier League Player of the Month for April.
He also won Goal of the Month, for this 😍
— B/R Football (@brfootball) May 14, 2021
This is a player who could feasibly be a part of England’s squad for the 2022 World Cup, although Lingard needs regular game time to force his way back into Gareth Southgate’s plans. This was a driving motivation behind his decision to sign for Forest. “I like to keep them close to my chest but obviously England’s a big one with the World Cup coming up,” he said when asked about his aims.
Having spent two decades exiled from the Premier League, Nottingham Forest are determined to make their place in the top flight stick. The addition of Lingard, signed to a one-year deal worth a reported £115,000-a-week, is a calculated gamble, but like most gambles this is a bet with significant upside.
The exit of on-loan Watford midfielder Philip Zinckernagel at the end of last season left a significant void in Forest’s team. Steve Cooper used the Dane, who contributed six goals and seven assists in the Championship, as a number 10 and so it’s hoped Lingard will compensate for the creativity that has been lost.
Tactically, there is a clear role for Lingard in Cooper’s favoured 3-4-1-2 formation. While the 29-year-old is capable of playing in a number of different positions, he is most comfortable, and effective, through the middle where he has the freedom to drift and exploit space wherever he sees it.
Lingard most successful recent spell was the five months he spent on loan at West Ham in the second half of the 2020/21 season during which he notched nine goals and four assists in 16 appearances. 69% of the total minutes he played for the Hammers were as a central attacking midfielder behind the frontline.
A natural tendency to drift out to the left from a central area should suit Nottingham Forest, and the speedy and direct Brennan Johnson who will be left with more space to work with on the opposition flank. Forest haven’t just signed a big name for the sake of it. They have found one who should, in theory, make them a better team as a whole.
Cooper still needs more additions to round-out his squad. James Garner was a central figure for Nottingham Forest last season and it is still unclear if the Manchester United central midfielder will return to the City Ground, on loan or permanently. Another forward is expected to arrive before the transfer window closes. But Lingard is the one who could do more than any other signing to establish Forest as a Premier League club once again.