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Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard and the Forrest Gump Complex

Cabral Opiyo draws an interesting analogy between Jesse Lingard and Tom Hank’s famous character, Forrest Gump.

Forrest Gump was a movie based around the life of a simpleton called Forrest Gump whose I.Q was believed to be below eighty. Life came simply to Forrest Gump; nothing offended him even when he was badly mocked by his peers for being stupid, his innocence led to a sequence of events unfolding that made him a legendary figure without even trying.


Jesse Lingard splits opinion amongst football fans like no other footballer currently plying his trade in the top division. See, many fans are of the opinion that Jesse Lingard is a severely limited attacker whose greatest strength is his willingness to work off the ball and stick to tactical instructions. When Forrest Gump joined the army, his immediate senior officer asked him what his sole purpose for being there was and in typical Forrest fashion he bellowed back, “To do anything you tell me sir”. That is Jesse Lingard in a nutshell and a reason why most managers will accommodate him at all costs.

When Manchester United visited the Boleyn Ground at the back end of last season, the team bus was pelted with projectiles of all sorts and as the players cowered in the aisle Lingard recorded a video of the incident and he was shouting, ‘mummy, mummy, mummy’. It was a pretty innocent video but when he posted it on social media the overwhelming reaction was one of disgust at the childishness Jesse was exhibiting, in reality it was cringe-worthy to say the least. It gave insight to just how simple minded the lad was. His Instagram page will make you shake your head in disbelief at the lack of intelligence possessed by the young man, it is appalling.

Yet for all his supposed deficiencies upstairs, Jesse has done relatively well on the football pitch in spite of his childish exhibitionism off of it. He scored a stunning net-ripper in the F.A Cup Final to end United’s barren trophy spell and to further augment that went on a mazy, Ronaldo-Fenomenoesque dribble sashaying and dipping and swiveling past prone Leicester players to score one of the great Community Shield goals. He is not what you would call typically gifted technically yet the goals he scored against Chelsea at the Bridge hint at actual footballing ability, so why does he divide football opinion like he does?

The answer to that is he can be absolutely below average on his bad days. When his touch deserts him he looks like a brick layer saddled with perhaps the most recognizable football jersey in world football straight from the construction site. It becomes painful to watch him attempt a dribble because he looks like a newly born baby giraffe, slippery amniotic fluid and all around the spindly legs wobbling at every movement. When he attempts a through pass you’d rather be watching two clowns head-butt each other on tricycles over tea. Simply put, when he has his bad days there is absolutely no art to his game, instead he seems like the protagonist in a garish horror movie played out on a football pitch.

Jenny Curran was Forrest Gump’s best friend and whenever he was picked on she would shout at Forrest, “Run, Forrest, run.” Jesse Lingard’s best attribute has to be his speed and movement, there might be no method to the chaos really because at times it’s reminiscent of an actual headless chicken. But it works in creating space for others to thrive when he drags away markers and finds spaces in the final third to help others to flourish. It is a facet of his game oft unappreciated but very evident as he is oft given an almost free role even by strict positional adherents like Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

Forrest Gump just upped and started running one morning and he kept running for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days and 16 hours, for no particular reason. You get the notion that Jesse has no idea where he will end up but he plays football and that’s enough of a reason to continue.

Jesse Lingard’s simplicity much like Forrest Gump is opening doors unintentionally and his career seems to be thriving against logic. He got his senior England debut and was started in a tough away match against Slovenia in Ljubljana benching more illustrious and technically gifted options. The parallels are uncanny with Forrest Gump, the simpleton who ended up with a military cross award for bravery, national ping pong champion and Prawn industry millionaire. Sometimes there’s no logical explanation as to why some people are successful, no method to the madness. As Forrest Gump would say, “My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Cabral Opiyo

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