Having left Manchester United at the end of his contract in late June, Jesse Lingard was a man in demand. As well as rumours of a move to Saudi Arabia or the MLS, both West Ham United and Everton showed an interest in the England international.
Instead, after David Moyes pursued the free agent, Lingard chose Nottingham Forest. Overtures from Miltiadis Marinakis and Steve Cooper seem to have sealed negotiations and, despite the wild salary rumours, it looks like a good deal all round — Forest have filled a key position in the squad with no transfer fee outlay, and Lingard gets to star in the club’s first season back in the Premier League for 23 years, while seeking to regain a place in the England squad.
On a one-year contract, it’s no risk to Forest in the future — and, if it works out, Lingard might stay longer. Having already spent close to £70m on 10 players, adding those final additions to the squad has taken longer, with the season just two weeks away now.
There will, no doubt, be a few more signings to follow — but a proven Premier League player with international pedigree is something the squad lacks. And, as we saw last season, the number 10 position is crucial to the way Cooper’s side plays.
Philip Zinckernagel had his critics from time to time, but the games he missed proved how much we needed an intelligent midfielder who could link defence and attack and play between the lines.
The 29-year-old’s time at West Ham in the second half of the 2020/21 season proves this, as a piece in The Coaches’ Voice points out:
‘Lingard is a versatile attacking midfielder comfortable in any attacking midfield position. Regardless of whether he is selected wide, as a number 10, as an attacking central midfielder or as one of two 10s behind a lone striker, he is at his best in central spaces between the lines. His movement — and more specifically the timing of his movements and the awareness he shows in making runs – is a particular strength.’
And, more importantly for Forest, as The Athletic notes he ‘has a tendency to drift out towards the left side to get on the ball’. In a front three with Taiwo Awoniyi and Brennan Johnson, this could be the perfect balance for Cooper’s first XI.
With Lingard’s work ethic — in and out of possession — anticipation of the game, and threat across the face of goal, we can only hope these factors and his determination to play at the World Cup in Qatar will be crucial to Forest’s season.
With another midfielder, attacking midfielder and forward expected — with budget left to spend — the Reds’ ability to score goals will be the difference between success and failure. Lingard could be the missing piece of the jigsaw if it all works out.