The bargain former international who can help West Ham maintain their blistering Premier League start
Jesse Lingard has been training with the Hammers after leaving Nottingham Forest at the end of last season.
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I like to think that the hatchet was buried with a handshake; a needlessly complicated one that involved several fist bumps, an excess of body popping, and an increasingly deep furrow in the waxy brow of David Moyes. In truth, the reunion was probably a great deal more muted. A pat on the back perhaps, and enquiry into the wellness of various of family members.
When Jesse Lingard decided against a return to West Ham - where he had recently enjoyed such a transformative loan stint - upon the expiration of his contract with Manchester United last summer, eyebrows were raised. When he instead opted to sign for newly-promoted Nottingham Forest, they had to be plucked from the ceiling.
Needless to say, his spell at the City Ground was less than auspicious. After a debut season that yielded just 20 appearances and two goals, the midfielder has once again found himself without a club, trudging through the purgatory of the free agent market at the age of 30. And it is under these conditions that he has shuffled back to the Hammers, predominantly with the intention of training to maintain his fitness levels, but also, increasingly, with view to potentially securing a short term contract.
In recent weeks, speculation has simmered steadily, even in spite of apparent interest from the Turkish Super Lig and fresh rumblings involving Wolverhampton Wanderers. For his part, Moyes has remained fairly coy on West Ham’s plans for Lingard, but there is nothing to be gleaned from any of his latest mutterings to suggest that the Irons have shelved their pursuit.
Speaking talkSPORT, he said: “Jesse has trained with us for three weeks and he’s improved greatly from when he first came in. He’s in really good condition – much better condition than he was when he first came in.
“I have to say, when Jesse joined us two years ago I think he scored nine goals in 15 games and was probably the difference between us getting into Europe for the first time. I want to give him every opportunity to get himself back in condition and see how he does. So there’s no real update on it at the moment, just to say that he’s back and getting much closer to the levels of fitness where you’d hope he would be.”
Sounds promising, even if Moyes is hesitant to nail his colours to the mast. But if and when Lingard does reach the level of fitness that the Scot deems appropriate, then West Ham shouldn’t think twice about offering him a deal.
Sometimes a player and a club just click for no tangible or obvious reason. During his last stint in east London, Lingard was, simply put, magnificent. Not only did he score goals in abundance, but he was a vital creative force for the Hammers, and his performances were so complete that he even dragged himself back into contention for Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
Now, nobody is suggesting that he would automatically slot back into Moyes’ plans and have the same electrifying impact, but the player was evidently pretty happy at the London Stadium, and for a talent like Lingard - who you suspect thrives on affirmation - that kind of stability in his surroundings is never going to be a bad thing. And even if he were to only produce, say, half of what he did when he last donned the famous claret and blue, he would still represent a superb piece of business.
Names of Lingard’s ilk are rarely available on free transfers at this point in a season, and while West Ham have started at a canter, there are reasons to believe that they could benefit from further attacking reinforcements. For one thing, a lack of depth up front means that goals from midfield are going to be crucial if they are to sustain their European qualification ambitions. For another, their upcoming Europa League campaign means that bodies will be vital for a schedule that requires the Hammers to play Thursday/Sunday most weeks.
Then, of course, there is the Lucas Paqueta situation. The Brazilian remains under investigation for betting-related offences, and if found guilty of wrongdoing, may be subject to a ban similar to the one currently being served by Brentford striker Ivan Toney. In that scenario, a suitable understudy wouldn’t go amiss.
When all is said and done, then, the decision feels like an easy one. Lingard and West Ham have worked well together in the past, and there are reasons to believe that they can work well together again in the future. The fact that he would represent an absolute bargain only sweetens the deal.