It wasn’t that long ago, was it? Jesse Lingard had arrived at West Ham fresh from Manchester United’s bench on a short-term loan.
Having barely played in the first half of the season, his energy and eye for the back of the net propelled the Hammers squad to near the top four of the league.
His nine goals and six assists among other stats helped the team secure a European spot.
It was clear, Lingard belonged at West Ham.
Not only did he light it up, but we saw great years from Michail Antonio, Jarrod Bowen, Tomas Soucek, and Declan Rice, he showed everyone that he was on his way to being one of the world’s best midfielders.
It was just one of those anomalies where everything that could go right did go right. Somehow it felt that he played a part in all of it and you knew that even if Lingard went back to Manchester he would be back in a year due to an expiring contract. It seemed inevitable. Two entities that were a natural fit and seamlessly made each other better. How could they not continue what they started?
Well, you know what happened. You can argue David Moyes may have waited too long to pounce and make the deal. Leaving, Lingard more time to think as other offers came in. Out of nowhere Nottingham Forest who played in the Championship last season outbid everyone. How could that be? Well, it did and he had suddenly gone from West Ham hero to persona non grata.
He went on to make superstar money for the season. A slow start saw him lose his starting position with his new squad. There were whispers at some point that he may even have been released early from his contract. An injury may have saved that. He may or may not be able to lace them up for his second clash with West Ham and his return to the London Stadium, as his knee injury continues to hamper him.
Whether he faces his former team or not and while most fans pretend to hate him, even a good portion of fans have to wonder what might’ve been like if Moyes jumped and made Lingard his priority and first signing of the summer transfer window.
Had West Ham successfully brought in Lingard, they would have had their number ten secured. That would have meant probably not signing Lucas Paqueta, who he thought could come in and fill the same shoes. He was wrong. Not only could he not do that, but Paqueta played all over the pitch for Lyon because it was what they needed.
His sample size at number ten was too small, but Moyes was convinced he could do it. Not signing Paqueta would have also meant not bringing in Emerson Palmieri to help get him. Because Moyes would have been convinced his attack was in good shape with Lingard he would have most likely not signed Maxwel Cornet, who with his injury record could be deemed a waste of money. It might have also meant Nikola Vlasic wouldn’t have gone out on loan to Torino and remained, giving the Irons some depth at midfield and out on the wing.
Losing out on those new players may have hurt the team’s depth, but make no mistake Lingard’s magic would have been back. Despite being a year older, Lingard’s speed in the middle of the pitch would have opened up lanes for both Antonio and Gianluca Scamacca. The chemistry he built with Rice and Soucek in midfield would have continued to garner results. With Lingard’s ability to recover, the duo were allowed to take chances deep in the final third.
Lingard would have carried on scoring goals. It seems without each other they are in the midst of an epic drought. Entering the 2nd half of the campaign and Lingard has yet to put one away is bizarre. There’s no way that would have happened if they were together. For whatever unexplained streak of luck Lingard took advantage of 2 years ago, it still feels like he would possess the same kind of pixie dust. It still feels like the magic would still be there.
Moyes would have been able to keep his 4-2-3-1 formation intact. With Said Benrahma and Bowen playing the wings. Antonio and Scamacca would both be benefiting from all the balls in the box thanks to Lingard and there would no doubt be more set-piece chances. Something West Ham thrived with while he was in East London on loan.
So on Saturday as the two sides stare at each other and wonder what could have been, this much is true, it has been a dismal season for both and they would have been a lot better off with each other than without.