EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: ‘I had to tell Ole the truth… my loved ones have been struggling – and it’s breaking my heart’: Jesse Lingard opens up on his family agony at Manchester United after a difficult few months
- Jesse Lingard has struggled with his mother’s illness and caring for his young brother and sister this season
- Manchester United star knocked on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s door after failing to perform on the pitch of late
- He was on his ‘last chance’ at United after angering Solskjaer with a crude Instagram video posted on holiday
- Lingard is now back in the United team and starred in their wins over Tottenham and rivals Manchester City
- The England midfielder defends his social media posts with Paul Pogba but admits he has ‘made mistakes’
There is no hiding place in football, not on the pitch nor the training ground. Jesse Lingard knows that now.
It was after another rebuke from manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer not long ago that the Manchester United forward decided to tell him the truth. Lingard had been carrying the burden of worry and unhappiness for too long.
‘I wasn’t performing and he was on me all the time. He wanted more from me,’ Lingard told Sportsmail this week. ‘So I felt it was best to get everything off my chest and tell him why my head wasn’t right. So I knocked on his door.’
Manchester United star Jesse Lingard opens up to Sportsmail on his family difficulties that have given him a burden of worry
Lingard spoke to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after failing to perform on the pitch and being rebuked by his boss
Lingard’s difficulties — kept private until today — began earlier in the season when his mother Kirsty became unwell. This left 27-year-old Jesse to care for his younger brother Jasper, 14, and 11-year-old sister Daisy-Boo.
Jasper has face challenges dealing with his mother’s illness and is currently living with Lingard and being schooled at his house.
So while trying to keep his place at England’s biggest football club and adjusting to life as a father himself — his baby daughter is one — Lingard has also been attending school parents’ evenings and prioritising his siblings’ well-being.
Understandably, the responsibility and stress have taken their toll.
‘I am normally quite bubbly and want to put smiles on people’s faces but people have seen the change in my ways,’ he explained.
‘I have been down and glum; just worrying. I felt like everybody just passed all the stuff to me and it weighed on my shoulders. It was like, “Here you go Jesse, you deal with this on your own”.
‘My mum has had some things for years but never really got help. Now she is. So I have been taking care of my brother and sister. They are with me. It has been tough to see my loved ones struggling and then I have to come to work and try to do my job.’
Lingard, originally from Warrington, has always been close to his family and his worries over the past year have been multi-layered. His grandad Ken — perhaps the greatest influence on his career — has prostate cancer and his nan Pam almost had to have a leg amputated.
Lingard spokes exclusively to Sportsmail about how his troubles at home left him ‘down and glum; just worrying’
Lingard, originally from Warrington, has always been close to his family and his mother Kirsty’s (right) illness has been hard
Against this background, Lingard lost his place at United and with England. Knowing he was already on borrowed time with Solskjaer after an indiscretion last summer, he could feel his career heading into a cul-de-sac.
For weeks, he didn’t tell anyone at the club about his issues. Staff say that for a long time the only thing outwardly different about him was the dwindling quality of his football.
‘I am a person who likes to deal with stuff on his own but it’s not necessarily the right thing to do,’ he added. ‘I always use the phrase “Be yourself” but I have realised now that there are times when you just can’t be. My dad and older brother, Louie, have been great support but some of this stuff has broken my heart, you know?
‘As a man I have to take this responsibility on and be there for everyone. I’ve had to mature and wise up. Sometimes when your worries are so deep you can’t function properly. Now it’s about getting back to my best and I feel I can do that.’
Lingard’s chat with Solskjaer was a turning point. He has only started six Premier League games but two have come in recent wins against Tottenham and Manchester City.
Lingard is now back in the United team and started their brilliant wins over Tottenham and Manchester City last week
Solskjaer has given his midfielder the confidence to play – and that helping hand is benefiting United greatly of late
A United team seen playing devastating, quick football on the counter has done so with Lingard in the vanguard. But it was actually a substitute appearance in a home win against Brighton a month ago that sticks in his mind.
‘When I came on the manager said to me, “Just go on and play with a smile and enjoy it”,’ he recalled. ‘To hear that gives you confidence. He knows what kind of character I am. I need to be smiling.
‘He has just told me that everything will be OK. Maybe I just needed someone to say that.
‘He said he just wanted the old Jesse back and maybe I can give him that now.’
Sunday’s game against Everton at Old Trafford will be the 4,000th United game to feature a homegrown player. Lingard hopes to recover from a knee injury to play for the club he joined when he was seven.
People’s impressions of him vary. The truth is that he is a quietly-spoken, approachable young footballer who also likes to enjoy his life. Some supporters seem to dislike the last bit.
Lingard has found himself criticised for everything from his social media activity and his friendship with Paul Pogba to his decision to launch a clothing range. It all seems trivial but equally it has threatened his standing in the game. Maybe it does have to change.
‘Generations are different,’ he said. ‘The older supporters are used to football, football, football.
‘Maybe they just see the funny videos and make their own conclusions. But anyone who knows me knows I am down to earth and humble.
Paul Pogba and Lingard, who have been friends since the Frenchman was 16, are often judged for their behaviour online
Lingard was joined by Manchester United team-mate Marcus Rashford as he launched his clothing range last year
‘Me and Paul are close friends. He came here at 16. To come through with him has been unbelievable. We share a lot of great memories so, of course, we are going to enjoy the time we have now because we have worked hard to get here. We enjoy our football, we work hard and we do have a laugh. Is that not OK?
‘People don’t know us. People judge us from social media. It’s about perception and reality. They are different. But let me say this: football is my life and my love. Even though I do other stuff, I never get distracted.
‘Maybe what I need to understand is that timing matters. It’s OK to post a funny video after we’ve won. Obviously not if we have lost. So, yeah, maybe I have made some mistakes.’
Lingard was criticised by former United captains Roy Keane and Gary Neville for starting his own clothing business in the week before a game at Liverpool just over a year ago. Keane suggested he was not putting his football first.
Lingard said: ‘The launch was actually a week earlier. We played a Champions League game in midweek. Nobody mentioned it. Then we play Liverpool and suddenly it’s talked about. I felt I was an easy target. Before the game my dad texted me the comments and said I should make sure I had a good game. I scored.
‘But stuff like those comments play on your mind and will always increase the pressure. I know it was the right time to do the launch, though. I am comfortable with that.’
Lingard and Pogba joke around in one of their series of Instagram videos that have been scrutinised by pundits and fans
What sits less well with Lingard are the events of the summer. On a holiday with friends, including United team-mate Marcus Rashford, Lingard made a short video that alluded to what may or may not have gone on in their apartment. Briefly it appeared on Lingard’s Snapchat social media platform.
‘It genuinely was a mistake to post it,’ said Lingard. ‘I have a lot of young followers and I would never put that out there deliberately. It was an accident. I was meaning to send it privately to one of my friends. I was on a plane waiting to take off. Someone from the club texted me and said: “Take the video down”.
‘When I realised what I had done, my heart just sank into my stomach. I was like, “I am done at United now. This is the final straw”.
‘I was told the manager was going mad but I was in the air for two hours and literally couldn’t do anything. When I got back I came in early to speak to the manager and apologise. He said I was on my last chance. He said I had to get my head down and that is what I have done. I am not stupid.
‘There is no way I was going to let what I have at this club be taken away. On the whole I have cut down on my social media stuff now. You do what you have to do.’
Lingard posted a crude video in which his friend was simulating sex in their hotel room while on holiday last summer
One of the highlights of Lingard’s life was the 2018 World Cup finals. Part of the team that lost in the semi-final to Croatia, Lingard has previously said he smiled every single day he was in Russia.
He loved playing for Gareth Southgate’s emerging team and relished the atmosphere created by the England manager. So to be shut out of the England set-up in recent times has been hard. He has not been in Southgate’s squad this season.
Southgate does not know about Lingard’s problems and the player is comfortable with that. He knows he must be picked on merit but believes there is still time before next summer’s European Championship. ‘I’ve been at a low point and my football at United dictates whether I am in the England squad or not,’ he said. ‘It’s about form. I have to be playing regularly.
‘My main aims now are to play, win a trophy and be in the squad for the Euros. There are still a lot of games to play. The next international camp isn’t until March so we will see where I am. But I feel good at the moment.’
Handed the United captaincy when Solskjaer chose a young squad to face Astana in the Europa League, Lingard hopes that is a signal that his manager’s faith in him has been restored.
‘That definitely helped with my confidence,’ he said. ‘Ole is great at man-management. He made me captain, then we beat Spurs and City and I played. Before the matches I am saying to myself, “Just play with a smile. It’s football and you were born to do it”.’
Lingard celebrates with Kieran Trippier, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Harry Kane after scoring against Panama at the World Cup
Lingard believes the main threat to United’s recent improvement is complacency. ‘If it’s a mid-table team we maybe think we don’t have to go for it but we do,’ he said.
Meanwhile his feelings about last weekend’s racist episode at Manchester City are understandable.
‘It’s a joke that it’s still going on in 2019,’ he said. ‘As players it’s awful but what can we do? Something has to be done doesn’t it? Do we walk off the pitch? I don’t know. It did put a damper on the City win but for us to beat them the way we did was really solid. We hit them on the counter and they couldn’t deal with it.’
If United feel their season is finally starting then so does Lingard. ‘I know what it means to play for Man United and I know what it means to come through the academy,’ he said.
‘I see young players looking up to me and Marcus as role models. If we can pave the way for the next generation that’s great. I wanted to be a leader this season. I feel I am beginning to do that at last.’
Lingard and United team-mate Fred suffered abuse during last week’s Manchester derby victory at the Etihad Stadium
Lingard knows he owes Solskjaer a debt of gratitude. His road back to the first team began the moment he knocked on his boss’s door.
As for the Lingard family, he will continue to do his bit for all the generations. He no longer feels the burden. ‘My daughter is one now and it’s been amazing,’ he smiled. ‘She takes my mind off a lot of things I’ve had to deal with. She is brilliant; a great part of my life.
‘My family is really tight and I will always be there for them. As for my daughter, I just want to be there as a father to show her the right way. I just want her to be proud.’
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