After spending the past few months without a club, Jesse Lingard, former Manchester United midfielder and English international, has found an unlikely new home with FC Seoul in South Korea’s K League 1.
As he was unveiled as the club’s biggest winter acquisition on Thursday, the 31-year-old said he is here to win.
“Now I’m finally signed, I can concentrate on football,” Lingard said at his introductory press conference at Seoul World Cup Stadium. He’s scheduled to join FC Seoul at their training camp in Japan later this week. “I am looking forward to getting back on the pitch and winning with FC Seoul because I am a winner and a competitor and I want to win a trophy while I am here.”
Over the past four seasons, FC Seoul finished ninth, seventh, ninth and seventh among 12 clubs in the K League 1. They last won a league title in 2016 by three points over Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who were slapped with a nine-point penalty that year after one of their scouts was charged with bribing referees. FC Seoul’s last tr
ophy without an asterisk came at the 2015 Korean FA Cup.
Lingard, who made 232 appearances for Man United after working his way up through their youth academy, is the most recognizable international name to join the K League 1. Lingard’s best season with the Red Devils came in 2017-18, when he netted 13 goals in 48 matches in all competitions. Lingard won the UEFA Europa League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup with the Premier League team.
Lingard also had loan stints with Leicester City, Birmingham City, Brighton and Hove Albion, Derby County and West Ham United. He had been a free agent since leaving Nottingham Forest last summer before FC Seoul announced their contract with the midfielder earlier Thursday.
“I’m very excited because it’s a new challenge. It’s a new chapter in my career,” he said. “I just want to enjoy playing football again and putting a smile on people’s faces and show Korean fans what I can do.”
He has played as an attacking midfielder or a winger throughout his career. He said he’s most com
fortable playing on the left but he will be available to play anywhere.
Lingard admitted he is “not match fit at the moment,” because he hadn’t played in a game since late October last year. But he had been training hard, doing two-a-days for several weeks after his birthday celebration in mid-December. He also traveled to Dubai to work out with his personal trainer and “came back in great condition, physically, spiritually and mentally, and in a great position to sign for a club.”
“I am not too far off being match fit. I look after my body very well,” he said. “I am in the gym at regular. I eat right things. I don’t drink. I just want to get ready now and go meet the team in Japan.”
Lingard said he received “multiple” offers over the summer but they were only verbal. FC Seoul, on the other hand, approached him with an actual contract offer in writing, and that was all Lingard needed to see.
“They flew to Manchester to watch me train and they came with the contract on paper,” Lingard said. “In my mind, I
had already made up where I wanted to go. The commitment shown by FC Seoul showed how much they wanted me at the club. It was only right for me to repay that and come to the club.”
Financial terms were not disclosed by the club, and Lingard also declined to give specific figures when asked at the presser. He reportedly had an offer from Saudi Arabia — he trained with Saudi club Al-Ettifaq last fall — and it’s not hard to figure he would have made more money playing for a team in Saudi Arabia than in South Korea.
Some may question Lingard’s choice of his next career stop but Lingard said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”
“I know what’s best for me and what’s best for my career,” he added. “It’s perfect for me to come to the K League and make the K League more global than it is. And the main thing was to play football and that’s what I want to do: get back on the pitch and show people what I can do still.”
Lingard said he had heard a bit about the K League before but he wanted to do his own re
search and find out for himself what the new league and new country would be like.
“I’ve come here to embrace the culture and learn new things,” he said. “Personal goals, of course, I have them written down back at home. But it’s about the team. I want to play for the team. We want to win every game that we can. I think the team spirit is going to be vitally important this season. As long as we stick together as a team, we can win as many matches as we can.”
On FC Seoul, Lingard will have another former Premier Leaguer by his side in captain Ki Sung-yueng, who played for Swansea City, Sunderland and Newcastle United.
“He’s a very good player, a very technical player. I was blessed to play against him a few times while he was at Swansea,” Lingard said. “I know what he can bring to the team. I know the synergy we can create on the pitch will work out perfect.”
Lingard is also involved in business ventures. He has his own clothing brand JLINGZ and has an esports brand of the same name.
Asked if he may get s
idetracked by his off-pitch business, especially since South Korea is a major esports force, Lingard said, “I keep my football and business separate.”
“Football comes first. My main priority is to play football,” he said. “It’s to do well on the pitch and it’s to win games and help my teammates. That’s the most important thing. That’s why I’ve made the move out here. The rest of it follows. With esports, I know it’s massive out here and eventually we’ll get into that. But for now, it’s all football focused.”
Lingard has only played his club football in England. Even though he will be playing in a foreign country for the first time, Lingard said he thinks he can make a smooth transition.
“Playing abroad and moving away from the family can always be difficult. I am always up for the challenge,” he said. “I can always adapt to any culture which I’m looking forward to.”
Before signing Lingard, FC Seoul’s first big offseason move was to bring in a new head coach. They brought in Kim Gi-dong, who had enjoyed su
ccess with Pohang Steelers despite not always being blessed with a talented squad. Lingard said he was excited to work with him.
“I know he plays an aggressive football and he’s a winner,” he said. “I’ve had managers over the years. Jose (Mourinho), for instance. He’s a born winner and he knows how to win games. I think that’s vitally important in a head coach.”
Source: Yonhap News Agency