Clubs, English Premier League, Jesse Lingard, Manchester United, Story

“I dread to think what I would be like on my own in lockdown,” laughs Jesse Lingard as he sits down for an interview with ESPN.

The Premier League has been suspended since March 13, 10 days before the UK was told to stay at home by the government to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. With Lingard’s usual housemate, brother Louie, currently in Greece, the Manchester United midfielder was facing weeks in isolation. Instead, it has given him a chance to reconnect with former academy teammate and close friend Larnell Cole.

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“Larny has been with me since day one of lockdown,” Lingard explains. “He lives on his own and my brother is in Greece and I would have been on my own as well, so it was the perfect time to get him in. We didn’t know how long it was going to be for, but he’s still here!”

Lingard and Cole have been friends since the age of nine. They lived together with Cole’s aunt and were both part of the Under-18 team that lifted the FA Youth Cup in 2010 alongside Paul Pogba after beating Harry Maguire‘s Sheffield United over two legs.

Cole left Old Trafford for Fulham in 2014, while Lingard remained at United and broke into the first team.

“We met at United,” Cole tells ESPN. “Jesse was there from about the age of seven, and I joined two years later. We carried on throughout the years, grew up together, and I left United at 20. “We’ve spent a lot of time with each other. We’ve grown up together, seen each other grow. We lived together in digs with my auntie, and we’ve got a good bond and friendship.”

“Things happens in life and in football,” Lingard adds. “People move on and change teams, and Larnell did that. We kept in contact, but because of our schedules it’s hard to link up and meet. You disconnect a little bit and you’re not as close as you used to be.”

The past eight weeks have been a chance to change that. They have been training together to keep fit, and in their spare time they’re learning to cook. Sweet chilli chicken pasta, prawns and vegetables and chicken seasoned with Maggi cubes are becoming specialties.

“There’s not much variety, but what we’re making is nice,” laughs Cole, who Lingard accepts is “the teacher” in the kitchen. There is also room for the odd treat.

“One day at the weekend, you can have a little cheat day here and there,” Lingard says. “Throughout the week we tend to keep it strict. A lot of carbs, a lot of protein. We’re training a lot, so we’re burning off a lot of calories.”

Jesse Lingard and Larnel Cole were Manchester United academy teammates. Now they’re roommates amid the lockdown.

The training has been intense. Lingard has been following the workout plan provided by United while also running his own sessions on Zoom for friends every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. After spells at Fulham, MK Dons, Shrewsbury and Inverness, Cole — still only 27 — is looking for a new club and has kept up with Lingard every step of the way as he looks for the right place to resume his career.

“I think we’re both fitter,” Lingard says. “He’s waiting for the right opportunity. We both want the same for each other. We both want to be successful.

“It’s good because the first few weeks we would go on 5 km runs, 10 km runs, 15 km runs and he would stay with me. I would push him and he would push me. Now when we’re in the gym, we push each other. It’s good to have that person to bounce off.”

Having a training partner has beneficial for them both.

“We have always pushed each other,” Cole says. “Even though we’re close, there was always a competitive edge. If we were training and he did something, I wanted to do it. If I did something, he wanted to do it. It helped to push us and kept us motivated and hungry. We took different paths but we still have each other to bounce off now, which is good.

“We’re at a good level now. I think we would need a bit of training on the ball, but we would be up to speed. I took a bit of time out from football, but the plan is to get back with a team and get playing.”

After all the running, weights and sweat there is time to relax. Sometimes it’s with games of FIFA on the TV that hangs on the wall of Lingard’s downstairs lounge. Other times, they look back at old games on the laptop from the days when they used to be teammates.

“We’ve been looking at old clips from games when we were U18s and reserves to look back at the times we had,” Lingard says. “It’s been good. We just want the same for each other. We want to see each other be successful. He’s been working hard and doing the programme that I’ve been doing, so he’s fit and sharp and can’t wait to get going.

“I feel like it’s been the new normal. We’ve been chillin’, working hard and training together. We’ve been learning from each other. It’s been good to have him here and catch up properly.”

The bond, the friendship and the laughs have kept Lingard and Cole going through what has been an unusual time. Lingard says having his friend around has helped him “mentally” while football has been hiatus. Now, the focus is on ensuring the are both ready when it gets the green light to return.

“It’s about positivity and good energy, that’s what I like,” Lingard says. “I like to have people around me who have good energy and good banter. We both have the same goals.

“We’re ready. For me it was about maintaining my fitness levels and keeping up to speed. I’m ready for when we can play football. That was in my head from the start of lockdown, to be ready to go back as soon possible.”

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