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Jesse Lingard's Emergence Is Vital for Manchester United's Identity as a Club

12/11/2015 17:35 GMT | Updated 12/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Manchester United may now have found their next big star in Jesse Lingard and that the 22-year-old is home-grown and United through-and-through is every bit as important as his ability with a football at his feet.

Born and raised relatively locally in Warrington, Lingard has been with United since the age of seven and has been a star at every level of the club ladder.

Four years ago he was a team-mate of Ravel Morrison, Paul Pogba and Will Keane as the Class of 2011 brought the FA Youth Cup back to Old Trafford for only the second time since the 1990s and the days of Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, Butt and the Neville brothers.

Despite United's status in world football, the unwavering focus on young players and youth development is what separates the club from so many others in the modern game.

United possess an astonishing record of nearly 3,800 consecutive games with at least one home-grown player in the squad. The last time there wasn't a player who came through the club's own youth ranks was October 1938.

However, it wasn't so long ago that many pessimists were gravely predicting the Glazer-fuelled spending sprees that have characterised each of the last two summers would soon bring such a remarkable run to an end. As a result of various expensive arrivals, the competition for places has never been fiercer.

Following the departure of Darren Fletcher in the last January transfer window, there are no longer any already established, senior home-grown players to keep the run going while the next generation worked their way into contention. Prior to Lingard's recent emergence, it wasn't clear who the next home-grown hero would might be.

There remain doubts over James Wilson's long-term future at the club. The 19-year-old has so far failed to kick on from his sensational debut in May 2014 and looks more likely to go out on multiple loans than earn a more regular first-team place at Old Trafford. Paddy McNair made a similarly immediate impact in defence, but fitness problems have held the Northern Ireland international back.

Manchester-born Tyler Blackett has already left on loan for Celtic. He started the 2014/15 season strongly after being unexpectedly thrust into the first-team as a result of an injury crisis, but he didn't play so well that he forced the manager to leave out bigger names when the crisis abated. His future return to Old Trafford, at least as a first-team asset, seems doubtful.

For a while it actually looked like Lingard's chance had gone, too. He was a surprise inclusion when Louis van Gaal chose to start him against Swansea on the opening day of last season and the injury he suffered in that game effectively ruled the player out of the first-team contention for the rest of the campaign.

Lingard then finished last season on loan with Derby County in the Championship and it wasn't as though United fans were clamouring to have him back at Old Trafford. He was named in the tour squad during pre-season, but wasn't an obvious star and it wasn't until mid October that the player finally got back into the first-team and made his long awaited second appearance. At 22 years of age, it was possibly his last chance to make an impression.

What Lingard has done in the weeks since his return is take his opportunity with both hands. In just a few appearances he's already done more than £25m summer signing Memphis Depay had done in two months prior. Now he's keeping the Dutch international out of the team altogether and his first ever United goal against West Brom was a moment of individual class and brilliance.

There is still a way to go before Lingard becomes a first-team regular, but his recent performances have offered much more promise than any young player since perhaps Danny Welbeck first burst onto the scene in 2008. As much as Lingard needed his chance to finally come, United needed him just as much to keep the spirit of the club alive.

As far as the immediate future of local home-grown players is concerned, there are more talents waiting for opportunities. Axel Tuanzebe has been an unused substitute in first-team games this season, while 18-year-old Cameron Borthwick-Jackson made his senior debut against West Brom at the weekend.

In Louis van Gaal, United have a manager renowned for his faith in home-grown players. He is, after all, the man responsible for unleashing players like Carles Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Thomas Muller on the world. Being repaid by Lingard's displays will only strengthen his faith in United's other up and coming youngsters. Ryan Giggs, the most likely successor, will continue that trend in the future.

Manchester United, as a club, has been built on the success of home-grown players and Lingard's sudden emergence as a genuine talent has kept that strong when it might have otherwise started to fade.

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