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 United in 1997 Sir Alex Ferguson tried to lure him to Manchester United – but foreseeing only a bench spot at Old Trafford, Jansen instead opted for Steve Coppell’s Crystal Palace. In 1999, he moved to Blackburn Rovers, and after blasting them back to the Premier League in 2001 and scoring in the 2002 League Cup final victory over Spurs, he was widely tipped to be part of England’s 2002 World Cup squad – but coach Sven-Göran Eriksson had a last-minute change of heart and instead selected Martin Keown.
While England battled it out in the Far East, Jansen took a holiday to Rome. He and his girlfriend were on a moped when they were hit by a taxi. Matt suffered a brain haemorrhage and slipped into a coma for six days.
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.
With insights from a range of contributors, including Graeme Souness, Sir Alex Ferguson, Sam Allardyce, Sven-Göran Eriksson, Lucy Jansen and Professor Steve Peters, this is the astonishing 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.