Jesse Lingard says his diminutive frame could have counted against him earlier in his career and he is grateful Manchester United “stuck” with him.
On Sunday the 22-year-old forward was called into England’s senior squad for the first time to face France at Wembley, prompting criticism from former international Danny Murphy who said Lingard and Tottenham duo Dele Alli and Eric Dier were “nowhere near ready”.
Lingard had similar feelings himself as a youngster because of his lack of height – he is now 5ft 9ins – when he played in the Under-15 Premier Cup for United and he even questioned his call up for the Under-17 international side in the 2008 Nordic Tournament.
“Personally I didn’t think I was ready for England then as I was so small compared to the other players,” Lingard, who joined United’s academy at the age of seven, told MUTV.
“I’ve got a picture at home and the shirt is down to my knees! But I was obviously going to play and represent my country after getting the call.
“As for the Premier Cup I was still tiny then too. I’ve got a pic on my Instagram of me going up against these two big lads.
“We got to the semi-finals in that cup against Barcelona which was a positive experience.”
United’s faith in Lingard has been rewarded with his promotion to the first-team squad under Louis van Gaal and his rapid elevation to join England’s seniors.
The club nurtured not only his ability but his physical development once he joined their academy full-time when, the player admits, they could have dispensed with him.
“In my first year I didn’t really play for the Under-18s because of my physique. I played a few games with the Under-16s,” added Lingard, who turned down interest from Liverpool to join United while still at primary school.
“But I started kicking on a bit in the second year with the Under-18s and, as soon as I was in the reserves.
“For the transition from the Under-18s to the reserves, I was with Warren (Joyce, reserves coach) in the gym every day.
“They could have let me go because of my height and I would now be playing somewhere else but they stuck with me.
“They saw my ability and I’m thankful for that.”