What do you do when the world is at your feet . . . and then suddenly it isn’t?
Matt Jansen had it all. He was young, quick, audaciously skilful and, at the turn of the millennium, regarded as one of the most intelligent attacking talents in English football. His potential seemed boundless.
After bursting onto the scene with Carlisle in 1997 and helping his hometown club win promotion, Sir Alex Ferguson had tried to lure him to Old Trafford – but foreseeing only a bench spot at United, Jansen instead opted for Steve Coppell’s Crystal Palace. In 1998, he moved to Blackburn, and after blasting them back to the Premier League he earned a place in Sven Goran-Eriksson’s England squad on the back of a 16-goal season that included a strike in the final of the League Cup, which Blackburn won.
At 24 Jansen was widely tipped to be part of England’s squad at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, but Eriksson instead surprised many with his conservative selection of Martin Keown over the rising star; Keown wouldn’t play a single minute at the tournament and England would crash out to ten-man Brazil – but Jansen didn’t see a minute of it. While England battled it out in the Far East, Jansen had taken a holiday to Rome where he was involved a serious traffic accident. He suffered a brain haemorrhage and slipped into a six-day coma.
Jansen survived and, astonishingly, he was back playing for Blackburn just four months later. But while his body may have recovered, his mind had not. In the shadow of the accident, he was unable to recapture the instinctive genius or the bullet-proof self-confidence that had previously defined him.
This was a hidden breakdown – nothing that could be picked up by a fitness test or fixed on an operating table. As Jansen’s career as an elite footballer slipped away from him, he started to discover more about what had happened to him and how he could recover not only as an athlete, but as a person.
This is the story of a career destined for the stratosphere, cruelly snatched away by the vagaries of fate. Brilliant, bold, and at times brutal in its honesty, this powerful tale of shattered dreams and a life rebuilt is a testament to an inspiring, unconquered soul.