It’s not often West Ham fans are forced to hold their hands up and admit defeat when it comes to questioning decisions made by the club, especially when it comes to recruitment.
Back in January it was incredibly obvious David Moyes simply needed to buy a striker to replace the departed Sebastien Haller and to adequately deputise the next time Michail Antonio’s hamstrings needed a rest.
Instead, Moyes asked his old club for a favour and loaned Jesse Lingard for the rest of the season to take the number of attacking, creative midfielders/wingers in his squad to five.
Regardless of anyone’s thoughts on Jesse Lingard as a footballer, the simple fact is he was the last player anyone thought we needed in January.
We already have Manuel Lanzini, Said Benrahma, Pablo Fornals and, to an extent, Jarrod Bowen in the same position.
At the time, one of those players was barely getting a sniff of action and the other was struggling to nail down a consistent place in Moyes’ starting XI, so what was the point of signing another player?
Well, while we all scoffed at the idea of Lingard — who hadn’t played a single minute of Premier League football for Manchester United this season — arriving and improving us, our wonderful manager must’ve been sitting back with his feet up giggling to himself, because he obviously knew something we didn’t.
Lingard admitted in his announcement interview that Moyes had told him he’d need to fight for his place in the team, but that he was looking forward to the challenge and helping the team when called upon.
Nothing too surprising there, given the form the team were in at the time and the fact the players already at the club had not done enough to warrant being dropped.
We all half expected Lingard to be spending most of his time at the club twiddling his thumbs, warming the bench and occasionally making the odd cameo. But then again, we all thought the same about Craig Dawson, didn’t we?
With that said, and considering the fact we didn’t sign another striker, it’s fair to say large sections of the fanbase were fearing the typical post-Christmas collapse to arrive imminently, albeit a month or so later than normal.
But as we all know, West Ham often have ways of doing things when we least expect, such as a battle for a top four spot less than a year after struggling to stay in the Premier League.
It’s the element of surprise that keeps us coming back for more, even if we all claim to never be surprised. Deep down, we always are.
And so Lingard arrived in true West Ham fashion by surprising us with a place in the starting XI away at Aston Villa and going on to net a brace in a 3-1 win on his debut. David Moyes strikes again in the transfer market.
Since then, Lingard has been nothing short of superb in claret and blue. At the time of writing, he has three goals and one assist in four appearances – two assists if you’re one of those people who count winning penalties as assists. Each to their own.
The 28-year-old has transformed us into a side in brilliant form with outside hopes of finishing in the top six to a side in brilliant form with a very real chance of finishing in the top four, despite being a player no one believed we needed. Now that is some impact.
His link up play with Benrahma, Bowen, Fornals and Antonio has been brilliant, with all of them instantly bonding with the England international both on and off the pitch.
His pressing, attack-minded play and energy off and on the ball has given us a completely different dimension and has only reinforced us as a team capable of beating anyone.
But while this has all been brilliant and surprising and wonderful to see, it is also totally fine to wonder if this version of Lingard we’re seeing in east London is the one we would get if we were able to make his loan move permanent.
He needed to move away from Old Trafford in order to get minutes under his belt and keep himself on Gareth Southgate’s radar ahead of this summer’s Euros, while there will no doubt be a part of him who wants to prove to OIe Gunnar Solskjaer that he still has something to offer the Red Devils.
Admittedly, it might also be a tad unfair to second guess his intentions, especially given the impact he’s had on the pitch and the way in which he’s integrated himself into West Ham life so far.
Posting pictures on his social media channels of himself and his daughter at home, both wearing full West Ham kits, goes to show that while he’s here he is 100% invested in West Ham United.
But you can’t help but wonder whether that would continue if he’s signed permanently and he no longer has anything to prove to anyone.
Many will point at the social media hungry, slightly immature Lingard of old – just look at the clips of him reacting to West Ham fans throwing fruit and veg at the Man United team bus before the final game at Upton Park, to know what I’m on about – and fear an eventual collapse in heart and desire from him.
But that would also be unfair and a very premature assessment. We must now take him at face value, he’s already earned that respect from us.
He’s older, more mature and quite frankly hasn’t got many more years left at the very top of the game.
He might be in his prime at the age of 28, but a footballer’s prime doesn’t last very long, does it?
So maybe we’re currently seeing a version of Lingard that has every intention of making the most of the few years he knows he has left at the top of the game.
Either way, we must enjoy him while we’ve got him and watch on in awe as he helps us realise our dream of playing in the Champions League.
We may not succeed but Lingard will no doubt play an important role regardless.
Whatever happens beyond that is unknown. Until then, we should be raising our glasses (again!) to David Moyes for pulling off yet another recruitment masterclass.
Are you watching Mario Husillos?