Jesse Lingard joined West Ham on loan from Manchester United back on January 29, scored twice on his debut a few days later and has excelled ever since.
His return of eight goals and four assists in nine Premier League games for the Hammers has not only sustained their unlikely Champions League push but possibly earned him a place in the England squad for Euro 2020 in the summer.
So it all begs the question – should Lingard leave his boyhood club United in the hope of continuing this hot streak, swelling the coffers for marquee summer signings in the process?
Or should Ole Gunnar Solskjaer take him back into a bit-part role, likely out of his best position, in the hope he can finally perform again in a red shirt?
United fan and writer Scott Paterson, of the Republik of Mancunia website, discusses the Lingard dilemma.
Jesse Lingard has been in sensational form during his West Ham loan, scoring eight times
It has been a stark contrast to the frustration of being a bit-part player at Manchester United
Jesse Lingard has been a revelation since joining West Ham on loan in the January transfer window, scoring eight times and assisting another four goals in just nine appearances.
His output sees him with a goal or assist just over every hour he’s been on the pitch, which is an incredible return.
When you compare the former Manchester United academy graduate’s tally with players elsewhere, his stock only rises.
He has three more league goals than £53million striker Timo Werner at Chelsea, in 20 fewer appearances, two more goals than Phil Foden and Roberto Firmino, one more than Sadio Mane, the same number as Gabriel Jesus and James Maddison, and just one less than Raheem Sterling.
Lingard has scored eight times and contributed another four assists in nine league matches
Former Man United manager David Moyes has been delighted with Lingard’s contribution
At the beginning of February, before Lingard had made his debut, West Ham were still in the promising position of fifth, with Leicester four points ahead of them inside the top four.
There were plenty of teams around them who threatened to leapfrog David Moyes’ side if they won their games in hand though.
The former Everton manager has since seen his team replace Liverpool in the top four and, with seven games to go, there’s now a good possibility of securing Champions League football for next season.
Five of their remaining seven games come against teams currently ranked 14th and below in the table and Lingard will be as keen as any to get the job done, regardless of where he’s thinking about playing next year.
His impressive form has seen him recalled to the England squad, which certainly comes as no surprise given Gareth Southgate’s appreciation of a player he coached at Under-21 level, and looks likely to book his place in this summer’s European Championship squad.
West Ham sit an improbable fourth in the Premier League table as they chase a place in next season’s Champions League alongside more familiar challengers
Lingard’s form has seen him return to the England squad and he is likely to go to Euro 2020
This leads to the question of whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer regrets allowing a player who has crept in to the top 20 scorers, despite only making nine appearances in the Premier League this season, to leave the club for the crucial remaining months of the campaign.
It’s not just comparisons between Lingard and other players that stand out, but Anthony Martial, for example, only has four goals and five assists in the league this season.
This question would be much easier to answer affirmatively if United were struggling, but with one foot in a European semi-final and a seven-point gap between them and third place, it’s hard to argue that Solskjaer has suffered because of Lingard’s absence.
Social media has shown some United fans slating the manager for not using substitutes effectively enough, which is fairly strange given that players from the bench have added 12 goals or assists after coming on this season, at least three more than any other club in the league, but with Marcus Rashford soldiering on despite fitness concerns more rotation could be helpful.
Lingard didn’t feature regularly under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) but the United manager has been criticised for not rotating enough in a demanding season
It’s been a challenging few weeks for Marcus Rashford, who has been playing through injury
The availability of someone playing as well as Lingard currently is would obviously be useful in allowing Solskjaer to change his starting line-up more regularly.
The problem with this line of thought is the Lingard who is at West Ham is not the same player United fans have watched for the past couple of years.
This loan spell has given him a new lease of life, a break from his off-field issues, and allowed him to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.
His confidence, which was on the floor during recent times at Old Trafford, is now through the roof and he’s thriving as a result.
Regardless, Lingard still wouldn’t be getting in the United team over Bruno Fernandes, who has one of the best scoring and assisting rates of all players across Europe’s top five leagues, so even if he had managed to beat his demons and earn his place in the starting XI, it would almost certainly be out of his best position, therefore making the whole argument fairly redundant.
It’s not likely that Lingard will displace Bruno Fernandes as United’s No 10 if he returned
‘For me, it was a no-brainer to get Jesse a chance to prove himself and play some football again,’ Solskjaer said ahead of United’s recent victory over West Ham.
‘He has been really bright for them. He’s finally back to himself.’
United will certainly be relieved they didn’t allow a clause giving West Ham the obligation to buy him at the end of the season, as Lingard being ‘back to himself’ does pose a bigger question going forward.
Should the 28-year-old leave the club he’s supported his whole life and played for since he was seven for a more prominent role elsewhere, or should he remain at United and fight for a starting place?
‘Manchester United has always been a big part of my life,’ he said back in 2017.
‘I have been with the club since the age of seven and I feel great pride every time I pull the shirt on. To have scored in two cup finals for my boyhood club were immensely proud moments for me and my family.’
Lingard, a United player since the age of eight, has made no secret of his love of the club
He’ll forever have the memories of scoring those crucial goals in two cup-winning finals for United at Wembley, a stadium he first ventured to as a supporter in 1999 as he cheered on his team to collecting a piece of the Treble-winning silverware.
And you can imagine he would be tempted to stay and try for a taste of this glory once more. But the appeal of being the main man at a smaller club might be too much to turn down.
United fans will be equally split on what is the best move too. While he has been written off by many of them for years, there are plenty who have a soft spot for Lingard.
On the final day of the 2016-17 campaign, he popped over the road after the game to Hotel Football and got drinks in for the fans on the back of a disappointing domestic campaign, despite winning two cup competitions.
He was the first to mock rivals Manchester City after they blew the opportunity to win the title on derby day and had to cancel their celebratory meal at Wings in town.
Lingard’s form gives United leverage in any negotiations for West Ham’s Declan Rice (right)
There are pictures of him where he’s so young he can barely walk kicking a ball about in a United shirt.
In an era of mercenary footballers, Lingard has a genuine love for United and the fans respect that.
But running around and kissing the badge obviously isn’t the be all and end all. For him to have a long-term future at United, he would have to rediscover his best form for the club.
After being a late bloomer, as Sir Alex Ferguson once predicted, he became a vital part of Jose Mourinho’s squad in the 2017-18 season, scoring 13 and assisting seven across all competitions.
That’s as good as it has got for Lingard at United though and now at his peak the club have the opportunity to cash in on him while his price is high, to free up some money to fund supporters’ dream signings like Jadon Sancho or Erling Haaland.
United could sell Lingard to help fund a move for targets Jadon Sancho or Erling Haaland
The difference either of these world-class players could have on the current squad and their title aspirations would be huge, although it may be hard to envisage United being able to get over the line in bringing either of them to Old Trafford.
The more likely scenario though, if West Ham is to be his club of choice, is a deal that sees Declan Rice move in the opposition direction.
With Nemanja Matic on his last legs and question marks over Fred’s ability to perform well consistently, the addition of Rice could provide United’s midfield with the defensive strength it’s currently lacking.
There will, of course, be people who use Lingard’s form as a stick to beat Solskjaer with, just as they did with Romelu Lukaku after he left for Inter Milan.
The fact that last year another academy graduate, Mason Greenwood, outscored the Belgian’s tally for United in his final season, as the club moved from sixth to third in the table, should have put that one to bed.
Solskjaer was criticised for letting Romelu Lukaku go when United suffered a striker shortage
Lukaku has thrived in Serie A but he wasn’t performing anywhere close to that level for United.
He now plays in a league where he is competing with the likes of Atalanta’s Luis Muriel and Crotone’s Simeon Nwankwo to be top scorer, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thought United should sign either of these.
Like Lingard, Lukaku is doing well at a club where it’s all about him, but in reality, neither should be seen as good enough to be the star at United.
The difference between the two players is that Solskjaer has fond memories of Lingard that go way back to when he was managing United’s reserve side and gave the youngster his debut for the team, and he undoubtedly would like to have Lingard playing well for him once more.
But what appears to be the most logical decision for all involved is for Lingard to shine elsewhere and for United to cash in on a player who has surprised everyone in showing his worth.