April 24, 2024

There is a famous Korean proverb that reads: Go-saeng kkeut-e nag-i on-da.

Its literal translation is: at the end of hardship, comes happiness.

So, as Jesse Lingard embarks on an unlikely Korean adventure, the adage couldn’t be more apt.

His career, after leaving Nottingham Forest last summer, has been at a standstill.

Prior to completing his shock move to FC Seoul last month, he’d not played a single game since April.

Ex-Man United and England star Jesse Lingard completed his move to FC Seoul last month

Ex-Man United and England star Jesse Lingard completed his move to FC Seoul last month

The midfielder made his home debut for the South Korean side against Incheon on Sunday

The midfielder made his home debut for the South Korean side against Incheon on Sunday 

Lingard's career after leaving Nottingham Forest had been at a standstill and prior to joining his new side in South Korea, he had not played a single game since April last year

Lingard’s career after leaving Nottingham Forest had been at a standstill and prior to joining his new side in South Korea, he had not played a single game since April last year

Lingard has shared pictures on social media that show he is immersing himself in the culture

Lingard has shared pictures on social media that show he is immersing himself in the culture

He’d been without a club since June and not completed a full 90 minutes since August 2022.

The decision to relieve his brother and father, who acted as his advisors, of their responsibilities created a strain; while the disruption caused by his mother’s illness is well-documented.

So, if there’s a semblance of happiness on the horizon for Lingard here in Seoul then good for him.

There’ll be many who have little sympathy in the belief the problems are of his own making.

The decision, and the motives behind it, to reject West Ham and Newcastle for a move to newly-promoted Forest ahead of last season raised eyebrows – even more so now that he finds himself a world away from elite level football. It’s a compelling argument.

But regardless of who’s right or wrong, Lingard deserves happiness. Surely no-one would begrudge him a smile.

He is trying. It’ll take a while but the comeback is underway here in Korea’s vibrant and sprawling capital city.

Who’d have thought Seoul would set the landscape for Lingard’s planned renaissance?

Who’d have thought he’d be here after rasping home England’s third in a 6-1 win over Panama at Russia 2018?

Lingard rejected West Ham, where he previously enjoyed a successful stint (pictured), and Newcastle to join Nottingham Forest in 2022, a move that did not work out for the footballer

Lingard rejected West Ham, where he previously enjoyed a successful stint (pictured), and Newcastle to join Nottingham Forest in 2022, a move that did not work out for the footballer

Lingard's decision to return to football in Seoul raised even more eyebrows among supporters

Lingard’s decision to return to football in Seoul raised even more eyebrows among supporters

Who’d have thought he’d ever leave Manchester United?

Yet, here we are – a long way from the World Cup semi-finals. A long way from Manchester.

But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In light of questions as to why he turned his back on Europe to start a new life in the Far East, those close to Lingard insists it was a decision not linked to sporting achievements but one motivated by a desire to change his life.

‘I’m always up for new adventures,’ explained Lingard.

‘Trying different things, learning different things, trying different foods and learning the culture. That what I’ve been doing.’

He’s not fully settled yet, but those issues are moving in the right direction.

Lingard has been residing at the plush Intercontinental Hotel in the Gangnam district of Seoul since his arrival.

But he has finally found a new permanent residence around 10 minutes away from the club’s GS Champions Park training ground – just east of the centre of Seoul. He’ll move into his new apartment by the end of March.

Moving closer to the his side’s HQ will limit the hours spent sitting in Seoul’s relentless traffic jams, although the club have provided Lingard with his own personal chauffeur.

Life in Seoul is run at a rapid pace, the hustle and bustle of the city centre is exhausting.

It can leave you lonely, too, particularly when you can’t communicate because of the very prevalent language barrier.

There is at least some familiarity, one of Lingard’s key commercial advisors has remained by his side since his arrival which has eased the settling in process.

Lingard, formerly a highly-rated youngster, is a long way from his England and Man United days (pictured after scoring in the Red Devils' 2016 FA Cup final victory over Crystal Palace)

Lingard, formerly a highly-rated youngster, is a long way from his England and Man United days (pictured after scoring in the Red Devils’ 2016 FA Cup final victory over Crystal Palace)

But living in Seoul will take time to get used to, all that with the pressure of living up to his billing on the field.

That said, Lingard will have people falling over themselves to help.

Koreans are warm and friendly, it was part of the attraction for Lingard, who had grown tired of the constant scrutiny and abuse in the UK.

Courteous and polite, Seoul’s football fraternity aren’t in his face demanding selfies when he’s out at a restaurant, nor do they shout abuse at him from across the street.

That’s not to say there isn’t the same level of fascination, but it’s respectful.

The frenzied delirium that accompanied his arrival at Incheon Airport stunned Lingard – and he’s toured the world with Manchester United.

His every move cheered by the adoring natives, all desperate to catch a glimpse of their new hero.

Lingard replica No 10 shirts are flying off the shelves here in Seoul, so much so the club are struggling to meet the demand.

A designated ‘Lingard Zone’ was set-up on the stadium concourse ahead of Sunday’s 0-0 draw against Incheon – the 31-year-old’s home debut – enabling fans to buy jerseys.

But even then, supporters were queuing for four hours for the privilege, while, on Saturday, locals amassed another lengthy line outside the official club shop in hope of grabbing any Lingard memorabilia they could get their hands on.

Lingard started Sunday's game on the bench but went on to play an hour in the No 10 role

Lingard started Sunday’s game on the bench but went on to play an hour in the No 10 role

‘Since I landed here, from the first day, the support and fans made me feel welcome,’ he said.

‘The people at training and the hotel I’m staying at – the love and support has been amazing.

‘It gives you confidence when you step out onto the pitch.

‘You want to do well for them, not only yourself. You want to give them energy because that’s what they give me.

‘I’d love to meet every fan and sign every shirt – but the love has been top and I can only do well on the pitch and give back on the pitch.’

Giant posters are draped across the peripheries of Seoul’s World Cup Stadium – Lingard, unsurprisingly, front and centre of FC Seoul’s marketing strategy.

The happiness on one young supporter’s face as he mimicked Lingard’s trademark hand gesture as his parents photographed him was heart-warming, although there is an unfortunate story of a fellow fan who flew in from Beijing to catch a glimpse of his idol in a hotel lobby only to catch his flight back to China the following day without having met him.

Lingard’s No 10 shirt was by far and away the most spotted on Sunday; followed by the No 6 worn by club captain Ki Sung-yeung – formerly of Newcastle, Swansea and Celtic.

Mail Sport even spotted a Manchester United shirt with ‘Lingard 14’ on the back. The natives are really going out of their way to make him feel at home.

The 51,670 attendance on Sunday was the K-League’s highest since 2018. No prizes for guessing why.

Shrieks of delight reverberated around the stadium whenever his face appeared on the jumbo screens. Roars of anticipation echoed whenever he touched the ball.

It’s good news for FC Seoul. It’s good news for Lingard’s bank balance, too, the attacker is understood to have agreed a healthy image rights package as part of the deal that brought him to Korea.

Off the pitch it’s so far, so good. On it, there’s room for improvement.

Communication was an issue but there were patterns of play designed to get him on the ball

Communication was an issue but there were patterns of play designed to get him on the ball

Lingard is said to have enjoyed his pre-season camp in Japan, during which he scored four goals, supplied four assists in six friendly matches.

Coming on for the final 15 minutes in the opening league game away at Gwangju was followed by another substitute appearance on Sunday, although what was planned to be a 30 minute cameo turned into an hour long shift after Lingard was introduced unexpectedly in the first-half as head coach Kim Gi-dong tried to stem Incheon’s dominance.

It worked for a while, two deft through balls from Lingard offered a glimpse of the impact he could have here – although he did squander a golden late opportunity to win the game.

‘I’m still building, I had six or seven games in pre season and I came on a little bit earlier than expected today,’ he said.

‘I tired a little a bit, but I haven’t played a full 90 in a very long time.’

On the his late chance, Lingard added with a wry smile: ’The ball just bobbled at the last minute!

‘That’s not going to get us down, we are confident. I want to take the ball, create and help affect the play, it won’t get my confidence down. It’s about mindset.’

Playing as a No 10, Lingard was given licence to roam, although his team-mates found difficulty in locating their new colleague, particularly in the second half.

But there were signs of clear patterns of play designed to get Lingard on the ball in dangerous areas as much as possible.

Communication is a clear early issue, with head coach Kim using Lingard’s translator to convey his messages.

A point from their opening two games, without scoring a goal, suggests FC Seoul need Lingard, who wore strapping on his right knee on Sunday, up to speed sharpish.

But once he reaches optimum fitness then you’d imagine he, and his team, will improve markedly.

Of course, all that rests on Lingard’s shoulders. How much does he want it?

It’s important to outline he had other options; clubs in Italy – namely Lazio – were keen.

Besiktas wanted to sign him, MLS outfits Portland Timbers and David Beckham’s Inter Miami were also in the mix.

Indeed, once his two year contract in Korea expires, there is every chance the opportunity to play in America will present itself again.

But for now Lingard wants to make it big in Asia, with plans afoot for his profile to soar.

Cracking the vastly lucrative Far East popular culture market is set to become a key strand of Lingard’s commercial work in the future, with a number of Korean-based management agencies already in discussions about marketing partnerships.

In addition, there are already plans for him to visit other countries in the region as his global appeal expands.

Lingard had other options including Lazio but for now he wants to make it big in Asia

Lingard had other options including Lazio but for now he wants to make it big in Asia

His schedule means he is unlikely to make the 14-hour journey back home to see family, in particular daughter Hope, too often – though FC Seoul have provided the attacker with a significant travel budget so he can finance flights for his loved ones to visit Korea.

Whether we’ll ever see Lingard back playing in the Premier League remains to be seen, but sources close to the player insist he is not anticipating a return to England’s top-flight.

He is comfortable with that. It is very unlikely he will ever play international football again.

He’s fulfilled his dream of playing for Manchester United. What else is there for him to achieve back home?

There’s a footballing world beyond the glamour of the Premier League and Lingard wants to experience for himself.

It may work out for him. It may not.

But if it makes him happy, then what’s more important than that?

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