Whilst Saturday evening’s dull victory over Malta may not live long in the memories of England fans, for Jesse Lingard it was an unforgettable night as the Manchester United winger earned his first cap having previously represented his country at under-17 and under-21 level.
The 23-year-old has three starts under his belt this season as he proves doubters wrong to maintain his place in the Manchester United team despite the arrival of Jose Mourinho. Now, Lingard can set his sights on taking his career to the next level on the international scene after impressing on debut against Malta.
With 93 touches over 90 minutes on his debut, Lingard was certainly involved as he attacked with pace to try and break down the Maltese back line, managing four shots, only one less than Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney who finished as the team’s top shooters.
Up against Malta, it was never going to be easy to tell whether Lingard is up to the international level, but he clearly made a good first impression. At Euro 2016, England and Roy Hodgson were criticised for lacking width and incisiveness, two things that Lingard offers in abundance, much like Theo Walcott and later Marcus Rashford did on the other wing at Wembley on Saturday evening.
There are few options available in that mould to Gareth Southgate, and whoever follows in his footsteps as the next permanent manager of England, which presents a real opportunity to Lingard to become a regular for his country and make his first cap just one of many.
To do so though, he must first establish himself as first choice at Manchester United. If Lingard continues to fall in and out of favour with Jose Mourinho, he may struggle to rely on a place in the England squad if he is lacking game time at club level. Lingard certainly knows how to turn up on the big occasion, his last two goals for United were in the FA Cup semi-final and final in his two appearances at Wembley before making his England debut, but he must learn to replicate such decisive performances on a regular basis.
At 23-years-old, Lingard has all of the attributes to be able to establish himself as an England regular for almost the next decade, but first he must prove himself in the Premier League at club level to sustain his push for a regular place for his national side.
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