If you’d have told us at the turn of the year that the La Liga champions would be interested in signing Jesse Lingard we’d have told you to head home and get yourself an early night.
The winger had long fallen out of favour at Manchester United – grabbing his only league goal of the 2019/20 season in the last minute of their final outing at Leicester – before failing to feature in any of the Red Devils’ first 20 league games of the following season.
Never has a player looked more in need of a move away, yet with no permanent switch from Old Trafford materialising, Lingard was shipped out on loan to West Ham.
The transformation in Lingard’s career since that move to east London has been remarkable, with his nine goals in 16 games seeing many call for him to be named in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Euro 2020.
With the Hammers continuing to barter over a permanent deal for Lingard, 90min recently revealed that Atletico Madrid are keen to thrash out a deal for the United winger.
One look at the success Kieran Trippier has enjoyed with Atleti – having been crowned a Spanish champion last season – would probably suggest Lingard should jump at the chance to link up with Diego Simeone.
But is it quite that simple?
The Atletico boss is renowned for his ability to get 110% out of his players and given the work ethic shown by Lingard throughout his career, it’s unlikely that he’d have a problem adapting to Simeone’s style of play.
However, the La Liga champions have an abundance of talent in the the positions Lingard would likely be vying for including Angel Correa, Thomas Lemar, Joao Felix, Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente, not to mention the likely addition of Antoine Griezmann in the coming weeks.
Given the competition for places, Lingard is going to have to bide his time for a chance in the first team and will need to impress when his opportunity comes, and that’s not a role he’s relished in throughout his career to date.
Despite the fact Lingard failed to hold down a place in Manchester United’s first team, he was given plenty of opportunities from the bench, making 22 Premier League appearances in the season where he only managed to score his first league goal with the last kick of the season.
If the England international’s move to West Ham taught us anything, it’s that Lingard isn’t that type of player who can be shunned and expected to churn out quality performances as a result.
We’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve heard pundits comment on how he ‘plays the game with a smile on his face’, and while that’s certainly true, he’s only got a smile on his face when he’s central to his team’s plans and is enjoying his football.
It seems mad that Lingard is still just 28 years of age, and given the form he showed at the London Stadium last season, he looks to have set himself up brilliantly to enjoy what should be the best footballing years of his career having looked as though it was in danger of fizzling out.
A move to the La Liga champions where he’ll be handed the chance to play Champions League football once again is a huge carrot to dangle in front of him, but if the move turns sour and he’s left kicking his heels on the substitute’s bench he genuinely could risk losing the best years of his career.
In all honesty, were Lingard to stay at Manchester United he’d be given the chance to watch on from the bench as his side plays in the top competitions and he’s given brief cameo roles towards the end of games – we don’t see a move to Atletico offering him anything more.
Moving to West Ham doesn’t have to be his only option this summer, but wherever he moves to he needs to know he’s going to be central to the team’s plans, and that’s not an assurance Simeone will be able to give him right now.