Jesse Lingard will never forget the first time he was called up by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, nine years ago come April, to play in the final Manchester United reserve team game of the season at Turf Moor with more at stake than any match he had featured in through his teenage years.
He laughs about it now, recalling a 17-year-old promoted from the Under-18s who was thrilled with the prestige of the reserves call-up, but also determined to secure the win-bonus at stake. “Phew, what was it in those days?” he asks himself as we sit down to talk in Shoreditch, east London, this week. “I think it was £240, and if you were from the Under-18s you were buzzing about that.”
They did beat Burnley, with a goal in time added on at the end from Larnell Cole, the only other Under-18 whom Solskjaer, then United reserve team manager had picked, and now in League Two at Tranmere Rovers. One can imagine how heartfelt the goal celebration was, although for Lingard the journey to the top was just beginning. In those days he was still a scholar, awaiting the first professional contract that many were given on their 17th birthday, four years off his first team debut and another five years from being a regular.