Matt Jansen was England’s next big thing and wanted by Man Utd before tragic moped crash destroyed his career and left him suicidal – The Sun
LYING in the back of an Italian ambulance Matt Jansen was presumed dead.
His girlfriend Lucy was hysterical, tears streaming down her face at the loss of her new boyfriend and she squeezed his hand — then Matt squeezed back.
It was the summer of 2002 after a season that saw Jansen, then 24, help Blackburn win the League Cup and fight his way into the England fold.
Physically he recovered from the horrific road accident… but not mentally.
So bad were Jansen’s consequent struggles with anxiety and depression — as he fought to recover his form as one of England’s most gifted strikers of the time — that he wanted to die.
He said: “I was suicidal. I was drinking a lot and one night I was on my own and took loads of tablets. It was just out of desperation.
“I woke up OK. I was too much of a wimp to go through with it, it was just a cry for help.”
Jansen’s stirring story is now laid down in his new autobiography.
It charts his journey as an indestructible Blackburn Rovers footballer, constantly courted by Sir Alex Ferguson — and how it all changed when he was hit by a taxi as he edged forward on a moped at a junction in Rome.
I should have been with the England squad for the 2002 World Cup. I’d had my suit sized up and gone to David Beckham’s pre-tournament party.
Jansen said: “I should have been with the England squad for the 2002 World Cup. I’d had my suit sized up and gone to David Beckham’s pre-tournament party.
“But Sven-Goran Eriksson decided on an extra defender instead in Martin Keown.
“But I was happy, I had always wanted to find ‘The One’ and I had recently started going out with Lucy and we were off on holiday.
“Rome traffic is crazy so we opted for the moped to zip around.
“Lucy’s helmet flew off at one point and we couldn’t find it.
“We stopped to talk to some policemen — Lucy speaks Italian — to ask if we could continue the short journey back to the hotel without her wearing one.
“They said it was OK.
“The last thing I remember is pulling up to a junction a few hundred yards further down the road.”
STRUGGLE TO RECOVER
Remarkably Lucy was OK but Matt suffered a brain haemorrhage and was in a coma for six days.
He was playing within four months but would never be the same instinctive goalscorer and began to crumble.
Jansen said: “I thought I was indestructible before the crash, so confident. I used to love going out there playing, showing off.
“Everything I did was instinctive. Then after the accident I had to think about the game instead of it coming automatically.
“I got fearful of going out on the pitch, of making a mistake, I would hide when I was out there.
“The fans were willing me on but that became an added pressure as I didn’t want to let them down.
I got into a horrible, dark place because I couldn’t cope. Nothing showed up on any scans but I was convinced I was brain-damaged.
“I got into a horrible, dark place because I couldn’t cope.
“Nothing showed up on any scans but I was convinced I was brain-damaged. I was drinking a lot.
“I remember one night Lucy had gone to see her parents in Lincolnshire and I rang to say ‘I am coming over’ and she told me not to because I’d had too much to drink.
“Her dad had to phone the police to make sure I didn’t get in the car — which I didn’t — but I was in such a state because I couldn’t cope and then I just fell asleep.”
He sought the help of psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, who has worked with England’s cycling and football teams and also with five-time snooker world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Jansen said: “He was working with Victoria Pendleton as she was having the same problems as me.
“He literally had to physically be with her for her to get on the bike. I probably needed him by the sidelines.
“I’d see him and get a lift but I’d go down before I saw him again.”
Even the good times post-accident could leave Jansen in despair — like after his stunning goal in September 2003 for Blackburn against Liverpool.
He flicked the ball over Jamie Carragher, turned back and fired in.
Jansen said: “I didn’t know how it happened. Steve said my subconscious took over and I hadn’t felt the fear.
“But I was crying saying, ‘I don’t know how to do that’. I didn’t know how I’d done it and it destroyed me.
“I had scored a worldie against Liverpool and I was in turmoil. It was just an ongoing battle.”
Jansen left Blackburn in 2006, played six games for Bolton then retired. He did go into non-league in 2009 and he managed Chorley for three years.
LIFE AFTER FOOTBALL
Now in the kitchen of his stunning home in Cheshire’s Alderley Edge, Jansen, 41, looks barely a day older than when he scored in Rovers’ 2-1 League Cup final win over Tottenham 17 years ago.
He and Lucy got married in 2004.
Jansen said: “She’s been incredible. I will have been a nightmare but she has been brilliant, as has her dad.”
They have three children — Minnie, 13, Arthur, 11, and seven-year-old Freddie and a sausage dog completes the family. Life is good. Although Jansen does think about the what-ifs.
He heard a story that Sir Alex was about to trigger his release clause at Blackburn. Then Jansen flew to Rome.
He said: “I do wonder ‘what if’. I was supposed to be England’s next big thing. Juventus and Manchester United wanted me.
“I wonder what would have happened if I’d gone to United.
“What if Sven had been a bit more adventurous and took me rather than a defender. If I hadn’t gone to Rome.
“I am proud of what I achieved, but it was cut short at 24, when your peak years are ahead of you. I was depressed for three, four, five years but I’ve come out the other side.”
Jansen returns to that Rome junction for the first time today as part of the book promotion.
A place where one life ended and another one began.
- Matt Jansen's autobiography What Was, What Is and What Might Have Been, published by Polaris Publishing, is out tomorrow.