Jesse Lingard believes fresh and fearless England are ready to attack the World Cup.
With Monday’s Group G opener against Tunisia edging closer, excitement and anticipation is building around a squad exhibiting a refreshing togetherness and openness in Russia.
Some players are unburdened by previous major tournament failures and even those that have tasted disappointment are displaying confidence, with Harry Kane speaking of winning the World Cup hours after being unveiled as captain.
Belief appears to be coursing through Gareth Southgate’s group, helping the Three Lions shed the fear factor that former manager Fabio Capello said has inhibited the national team.
“Southgate has come in with the mentality to play with freedom, play without fear, and you will enjoy your time more,” Lingard said.
“So, as a group of players, that is what we are going to do – enjoy our football, play with no fear and play exciting football at the same time.
“Of course, we want to go all the way to the final, but we are going to take each game as it comes and prepare for each game as we normally do.”
Lingard is confident there will be no knock-on effect at the end of an arduous Premier League season, saying there is “definitely a freshness” about a young group blessed with the odd bit of experience and no little pace.
It makes the 25-year-old excited by their prospects under Southgate – a man he knows well from under-21 level.
A shining light during an otherwise disappointing Under-21 European Championship in 2015, Lingard was handed his England debut in Southgate’s first match in charge of the senior team in October 2016.
“He understands the way I play,” Lingard, now boasting 12 caps and a realistic chance of starting against Tunisia, said.
“To work with him at youth level as well, then coming into the first-team set-up, that’s always going to help.
“He had faith in me to play me against Malta for my debut and I can only thank him for that and ever since then I have kicked on and done well.”
There is also gratitude towards Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho off the back of his best season to date.
“I think it’s confidence, isn’t it? To be scoring goals for Manchester United, your confidence is always going to be up,” Lingard said.
“Then you can really start enjoying your football and playing how you normally play.”
But Lingard, like many of his team-mates, did not get to this point the easy way.
Having left his Warrington home aged 12 to move into digs at United, the late developer bounced around loan spells and had injury setbacks before following in the footsteps of boyhood idol Paul Scholes and breaking into the first team.
“He was always there to chat to, as a player,” Lingard said of Scholes.
“Of course, there were a lot of players at that time – Rio (Ferdinand), (Ryan) Giggs, Wazza (Wayne Rooney) – all there to help me and give me advice.”
“I used to watch (Andres) Iniesta a lot – I liked him from Barcelona. You just pick up little things of what they do and try to put it into your game.
“Just the way he graces the pitch. He’s silky, an intelligent footballer.
“And people have said I’m an intelligent footballer, so I have to learn off the other players that are intelligent and play in the same position as well.”
Lingard, scorer of important goals for his club in FA Cup and EFL Cup finals at Wembley, continued: “I think you have just got to embrace the moments.
“You’ve got to enjoy your time on the field no matter what game it is, and you know the big games you’ve got to go into them full of confidence and knowing that you are going to win.
“Sometimes that is not the outcome but, on the day, as long as you are a team and you work hard, embrace the moment, play free and enjoy the football…”
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