Football is littered with players whose careers have been curtailed before their time, sometimes through off field excesses, sometimes by the wear and tear of top level football, but Matt Jansen is certainly one of those players who certainly had more than a bit of bad luck push him to the periphery of the game. Today, Jansen has spoken to BBC Radio Lancaster as he rejoins Blackburn Rovers to give it one final push to try and regain his status as a Premiership footballer.
Jansen had been a highly rated prospect when he started out at Carlisle United and famously turned down Manchester United as he felt he wouldn’t play regularly and joined Crystal Palace in 1998, before eventually joining Blackburn Rovers for £4.1 million the following year. Jansen quickly became a favourite of the Ewood Park faithful and in Graeme Souness first full season as manager fired 23 goals to help Blackburn return to the Premier League in the 2000-2001 season.
An impressive following season saw him score the first goal in the League Cup final and he was building a reputation as a skillful striker but it was all about to go horrible wrong for the likeable Cumbrian lad. That Summer, whilst on holiday, Jansen was involved in a near fatal motorbike crash in Rome. Spending 4 days in a coma, it became clear later that he had been close to death after the accident and it took 5 months of rehabilitation to get Jansen back on to the training pitch. It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the striker, who was on the fringes of the England squad and was a serious consideration to go to the 2002 World Cup. Once he returned to Blackburn, he was loaned out to Coventry in 2003 and played 9 games in that spell before returning to Rovers to try and recapture his place amongst Graeme Souness’ squad. The 2003-2004 season saw him get back in to the match day squad but something wasn’t quite right, there was something missing and Blackburn, giving him a extended period of leave, sent him to the US to seek out a sports psychologist to try and remove the pressure that he was putting himself under. Once again, he returned to Blackburn and continued to try and break back into the squad.
Another 2 years of struggling with his performance saw him end up at Bolton Wanderers under Sam Allardyce but still Jansen couldn’t get back to the level he felt he needed to justify his inclusion and in 2006 he called it day after ending up having an unsuccessful trial with the New York Red Bulls. His career had now reached its nadir, but Allardyce invited him back to stay with Bolton in a bid to keep himself in shape, John Ward then allowed him to return to Carlisle to continue his fitness training before today’s announcement that he was training with Rovers and determined to try and get back.
Speaking on the radio, Jansen was positive, eager and sounding like he wants to be back amongst football. “I fell out of love with the game because things weren’t going my way and I needed time away from it and I thought that was it, After the accident I couldn’t live up to what I thought I was prior to the accident, I didn’t believe I was back to my best so the doubts and lack of confidence started creeping in. ” He finished the interview with his aim. “If you ask my ultimate ambition, it would be to wear that blue and white strip again.”
It’s one of those saddening stories that may have a happy ending for the striker who is still only just turned 31 and having seemingly lost everything he had, now wants to give it one more crack. Of course, no-one needs me to point out if he had gone to the World Cup, he would never have been involved in the accident, but Jansen never spoke of what ifs and maybes, simply looking forward to the opportunity to give it another go now his hunger for the game had returned. Anyone who has been through anything similar to the mishap which befell the lad will certainly appreciate that life can never be the same again but it can be as damn close as possible. It may not take a week, a month or even a year to feel mentally right, but one day you can wake up with a sense of determination and purpose and the cobwebs feel as if they’ve been blown away.
I always rated Jansen, as a person and player. He was one of the good guys, who took time out to sign autographs, stop for a chat and a photo with his adoring fans and I truly hope that this latest twist in his career sees him return to a game that he gave so much to. Fingers crossed Matt, you deserve it and well done to Paul Ince and the coaching staff at Blackburn Rovers, I hope it pays off for all of them.