Jesse Lingard is earning £120,000 a week at Nottingham Forest to not play - not for the first time, he made the wrong choice

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Jesse Lingard Nottingham Forest 2022-23
Lingard resurrected his career with West Ham after a sour end at Manchester United, but his move to Nottingham Forest has been a huge disappointment

Jesse Lingard's career has been marked by bad decisions and joining Nottingham Forest looks like one of his worst.

As Forest prepare to host Manchester United on Sunday, Lingard looks unlikely to feature in the starting line up or from the bench against his boyhood club.

Not helped by a series of niggling injuries, he has fallen way down the pecking order for Steve Cooper and has only started one match in 2023, the miserable 3-1 defeat at Tottenham when he was hauled off at half-time.

Forest made an expensive bet on Lingard in their bid to ensure they avoided relegation back to the Championship, buying a big-name player with years of experience in the Premier League and who only one year previously had enjoyed an explosive return to form with West Ham.

But nine months into the move, Lingard has turned into a peripheral figure. His Premier League career, despite being only 30, appears to be coming to an end.

Forest, meanwhile, are languishing in the relegation zone, dreading what could be a catastrophic, immediate return to the Championship.

  1. Solskjaer refuses to let Lingard go and everyone loses
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    Solskjaer refuses to let Lingard go and everyone loses

    To be fair to Lingard, his current predicament is not all his own making.

    After falling out of favour at United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the 2020/21 season, he resurrected his career on loan at West Ham.

    In 16 appearances for David Moyes' side he scored a stunning nine goals and added five assists to help the Hammers finish sixth in the Premier League while achieving their highest-ever points total.

    West Ham wanted to make the move permanent but Moyes revealed that Solskjaer was determined to keep the midfielder.

    Lingard went back to Old Trafford and scored two goals in the first two months of the season, including the winner away to West Ham which he refused to celebrate. But he made only six Premier League appearances, all as a substitute, before Solskjaer was sacked in November.

    He also featured little for interim manager Ralf Rangnick and was not offered a new contract, to the fury of his brother Louie Scott, who blasted the club for not allowing him a final appearance.

    Everyone lost out from United's refusal to sell. The Red Devils made no money from Lingard's eventual departure and got barely any use out of him, while West Ham were deprived of a player who they valued highly and the midfielder effectively wasted a season.

  2. Choosing Forest over West Ham

    Choosing Forest over West Ham

    Lingard's departure from Old Trafford as a free agent did give him the opportunity to return to West Ham.

    But he surprisingly turned down a reunion with Moyes to head to newly-promoted Forest, who flew him and his entourage to Athens to meet owner Evangelos Marinakis in a bid to seduce him.

    Lingard was also offered a lucrative contract by Forest. Initial reports suggested he would earn close to £200,000 a week although other reports claimed the figure was nearer to £120,000 including bonuses.

    Either way, he immediately became one of the club's top earners.

    West Ham fans also felt he had rejected them in the pursuit of more money, throwing fake bank notes at Lingard on his home debut for Forest against the Hammers.

    Lingard saw it differently: "They showed me love, they were very aggressive with their approach," he said after his unveiling. "You love that, you want to see that love and they've showed intent for me to come to the club."

  3. Struggling to stand out among all the new faces
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    Struggling to stand out among all the new faces

    It is easy to say with hindsight, but West Ham would have been familiar to Lingard and given him some stability, even withstanding their troubles this season and their own battle against relegation.

    But Forest was unknown territory for a number of reasons, primarily the fact they made 21 signings in the summer, completely overhauling their squad.

    Lingard may have been one of their better-known arrivals, but all the new faces brought a sense of chaos and they won only one of their opening 10 Premier League games, losing seven.

    Lingard appeared in 13 of Forest's 15 matches before the season paused for the World Cup, starting 10 games. He was on the winning side three times, against West Ham, Liverpool and Crystal Palace.

    He also starred in the Carabao Cup wins over Tottenham and Blackburn either side of the tournament in Qatar, getting a goal and an assist in each game.

  4. Bad luck with injuries but enough chances to prove himself

    Bad luck with injuries but enough chances to prove himself

    However, he had the misfortune to suffer a thigh injury in Forest's first league match after the World Cup, the 3-0 defeat at Manchester United.

    He has only played twice since, starting the 3-1 defeat at Tottenham and coming off the bench in the 4-0 drubbing at West Ham, whose fans booed him when he was brought on.

    Most recently, Lingard was an unused substitute against Everton and in last week's 2-0 surrender at Aston Villa.

    He may have been unlucky with the injuries, but he has had more than enough opportunities to prove himself and has not done so.

    In 16 Premier League appearances he has no goals and assists and has averaged 0.2 shots on target per match.

  5. Loved by young fans, disliked by the older generation

    Loved by young fans, disliked by the older generation

    Lingard was not universally loved by United supporters despite being a local boy who grew up in the club's academy, before becoming a regular in the first team and scoring in successive domestic cup finals.

    Older fans considered him a little egotistical and did not warm to his dancing celebrations.

    Then again, he was very popular with younger supporters and was known for taking extra time to sign autographs for fans at Carrington, something he has also done while at Forest.

    Fans would get frustrated with his propensity to try, and often fail, to pull off outlandish moves in pursuit of an eye-catching goal when a simple finish or pass to a team-mate would have been more effective.

    Take his attempted lob over Ben Foster in the 2-0 defeat at Watford in 2019 when he was clean through on goal. Or his careless back pass in the defeat to Young Boys last season.

    He looked like he thought he was a better player than he actually was. As the old cliche goes, he believed his own hype.

  6. Raising his game at Wembley

    Raising his game at Wembley

    But he also knew what he was capable of.

    Remember how he beat five Leicester players on his way to scoring in the Community Shield?

    Indeed, he always raised his game at Wembley, volleying in the winning goal in the 2016 FA Cup final against Crystal Palace and netting in the 3-2 win over Southampton in the 2017 League Cup.

    He played a total of 232 matches for United, scoring 35 goals and contributing 21 assists, as well as lifting five trophies.

    And he was an England regular only 18 months ago. Let's not forget that Gareth Southgate started him in five out of six games at the 2018 World Cup.

    That's why it hurts to see his current predicament. Even though he achieved more than many players could have dreamed of, there is a sense of unfulfilled promise.

    If only he had focused just a little more on becoming even better. If only he had made better decisions.

  7. What next?

    What next?

    Lingard has been very open about his struggles with depression and how he turned to drink when he fell out of the United team in 2020.

    He is a larger-than-life character with many interests off the pitch. He has his own clothing company, his own Esports team, his own media company.

    He has spoken of ending his career in the United States, where he could further pursue his other interests.

    That move could come very soon, as there is little prospect of him remaining at Forest and any interested top-flight clubs are unlikely to want to sign him on the back of his recent form.

    Let's just hope that he chooses his next move carefully and is able to get a few more years of enjoyment from football.