‘I could have quit’ – Jesse Lingard opens up on mental health struggles

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Jesse Lingard has revealed how close he came to taking a complete break from football during lockdown as he battled mental health problems and his mother’s depression.

Lingard spent almost two years in the wilderness at Manchester United as he struggled with to cope with mum Kirsty’s condition.

But the 28-year-old looks a player reborn after joining West Ham on loan in January, scoring nine goals in 10 matches and winning back his England place.

Lingard, who comes across as a bubbly, carefree character on and off the pitch, has opened up about the dark days he suffered at Old Trafford.

Manchester United v Watford – Emirates FA Cup – Third Round – Meadow Park
Lingard’s form dipped for Manchester United (Martin Rickett/PA)

“Not quit football, just have a time-out, really. I was going into games happy sitting on the bench, and that’s not me.

“My mind wasn’t there, I wasn’t focused at all. I was thinking about other things, and obviously bottling it all up trying to play football, you’re tense, you’re stressed and you can’t do it.

“There were some days where I used to have a game at 8pm and we’d go to the hotel in the afternoon, I’d sleep from two until four, shut my curtains in the dark, and then wake up in the dark and you don’t get any sunlight.

West Ham United v Leicester City – Premier League – London Stadium
Lingard looks a player reborn at West Ham (John Walton/PA)

A World Cup semi-finalist in 2018, Lingard’s form dipped alarmingly soon after and having lost his place with club and country, the forward finally opened up to United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2019.

But Lingard had not started a Premier League match for more than a year when Solskjaer agreed to loan him to West Ham because “he deserved to play more”.

Now Lingard’s infectious personality is back on show with his stunning form spearheading West Ham’s unlikely Champions League push, a far cry from when he was at the depths of despair.

“Even in football matches, I felt like the game was just passing me by, like I just didn’t want to be there – it was crazy.

“I could see myself playing but watching the game back I’m thinking ‘that’s not me, that’s not how I play’. You go from the World Cup to some performances I’ve seen myself playing, and something needed to change.

“I opened up to United and told them what I was going through, what my mum was going through and they’re always there to help. I’ve had other doctors that have helped which has been brilliant and during the lockdown I got my head together.

“I feel lockdown has transitioned me in a way. I watch my old games back, the World Cup games and the old games I used to play and I think ‘yeah, that’s the real Jesse Lingard’.

Croatia v England – FIFA World Cup 2018 – Semi Final – Luzhniki Stadium
Lingard played in the World Cup semi-final against Croatia (Tim Goode/PA)

“My brother, who lives with me, he could see that and he’s got a video of me literally laying on the couch and I’m just staring for three minutes into thin air and he’s just thinking ‘what is he going through? He’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders’.

“When I finally opened up and everyone understood it was like, ‘oh, that’s why’, so now it’s just me getting my head back together, football and helping my mum, and I don’t have time for anything else really.”

::The full interview with Jesse Lingard is available on Presenting’s Youtube channel::

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