Please Wait . . .
As the number 14 flashed up on the substitutes board at Old Trafford on Wednesday night Jesse Lingard walked off the pitch annoyed.
In the league of meaningless games,this was up there at the top and it wasn’t a case of Solskjaer resting Lingard as the midfielder had only played 167 minutes since the restart. If anything, he was in need of more game time to get back to some level of match fitness.
The disappointment was written all over his face as he took his seat in the south stand for the last half an hour of the tie. Marcus Rashford, who had been giving him some advice as the pair walked out for the second half, had some words for his mate as he sat mulling over Solskjaer’s decision.
“I've known Jesse since he was a little kid and I know there's a good player and a great personality to have around," Solskjaer explained. "He knows what we want from him and he knows he has to stand by the manager whatever decision he makes. I would be disappointed if he was happy coming off."
But, in reality Lingard’s frustration is borne out of more than just an early exit from the LASK game. Earlier in the week he had sat next to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the pre-match press conference where the Norwegian was asked if Lingard had a long-term future at the club. While the answer was positive, it is clear the 27-year-old’s time at the team he joined when he was seven is nearing an end.
"I’m not totally sure. I do think when he’s playing well he has something to offer," Paul Scholes told BT Sport. "Lately he hasn’t been good enough really. Is he a starting XI player if you’re going to go on to win the league and the big trophies at Man United? I’m not sure he is.”
You only have to look at how Lingard has been used, especially since the restart, to know he is not part of the rebuild Solskjaer is undergoing. Of the nine Premier League games since June he didn’t make the cut for the matchday squad for five of those and only managed two appearances off the bench.
While Solskjaer’s favoured starting XI stuttered over the line with fatigue creeping in,Lingard wasn’t called upon as a reliable back up option. The attacker will be the first to admit that it has been a poor campaign for him with personal issues affecting his form and, while there is sympathy for the academy graduate, there is a realisation from all parties that his time may be coming to an end.
The mini-tournamentto finish the Europa League campaign in Cologneis being billed by some as a way for Lingard to salvage his United career. But even three good cameos, which is the best he can hope for, is unlikely to change the club’s position that they open to offers for the 27-year-old midfielder.
The issue of his future is a sensitive one. Questions about it were screened at a commercial event late last month and Lingard’s stock response is that he is trying his best to impress. There will be an element of sadness from both parties should he move on this summer. Solskjaer likes him, his presence is felt in the dressing room and has been at the club since he was seven, but there’s an acceptance that his playing time will be limited going forward.
Solskjaer is set to field a strong team in Germany as he goes in pursuit of his first piece of silverware as Manchester United manager and, unfortunately for Lingard, he doesn’t fit into that bracket. He will be desperate to impress not only for his manager but for potential buyers who will be well aware of him falling down the pecking order at Old Trafford.