Manchester United and England star Jesse Lingard insists he is more than happy to bare his teeth and fight for his football ‘family’ despite earning a reputation as one of the game’s jokers.
Lingard, 24, likes to look on the lighter side of life, celebrating goals in a variety of novel ways, including the ‘dab’ dance move and playing an imaginary flute in honour of a track by rapper Drake.
He also filmed from inside the Manchester United team bus when it was attacked by West Ham fans last season, with his comical version of events amusing some while discomfiting others.
Lingard insists the footage was only ever meant to be seen by friends, joking that one of them “snaked me out”, but makes no apologies for his outlook.
“I think fun plays a massive part in anyone’s life. I’m the type of guy that’s always having a joke, messing around, but when it comes to the serious stuff, you know, your head’s on the game,” he said, ahead of Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.
“You train hard all week and obviously in your downtime you can relax with your friends and have fun. Nowadays the papers do pick up on it quick, and you can be quick to be judged, but you can’t really judge anyone unless you speak to them face to face or you meet them in real life.”
Former United team-mate Rio Ferdinand recently criticised Lingard and Paul Pogba for posting another choreographed celebration routine on social media, but revised his opinion after talking with the England international.
“I spoke to Rio and obviously we had a discussion about it, but that’s just us. We’re happy-go-lucky people and we do what makes us happy,” said Lingard of the conversation.
He has already shown there is no reason to question his commitment in the heat of battle, having shown his willingness to stand up for teenage team-mate Marcus Rashford on a couple of high-profile occasions.
He may not be the most physically intimidating player, but in a Manchester derby last season and England’s 0-0 draw in Slovenia in October he was quick to step in and defend Rashford against opposition players.
“I think you’ve got to look after each other. You come on trips like this, we team bond and get to know each other and it’s like family,” he said.
“We have to look after one of our own. And we’re not going to let another team bully us or be tougher than us. On the day, we’ve got each other’s back and we look after each other
“I was there for Rashy when he come through and made his debut and stuff like that. So when I see players pushing him about…no, I don’t like it, especially the City match.
“It’s good for him to know I’m always there for him.”
That steely edge could be useful as Lingard’s contract negotiations continue with the Red Devils – with the player discussing his future at the cub here.