Matt Jansen’s career was on an upward trajectory. He felt invincible.

He had scored the goal to secure Rovers’ promotion back to the Premier League, netted in a Worthington Cup final win over Tottenham and finished the 2001/02 season with 16 goals.

A bout of gastroenteritis denied him an England debut against Paraguay in April 2002 but international honours seemed inevitable.

A place on the plane for the World Cup in Japan and South Korea was an ever-increasing possibility, only to robbed of that after a late change of heart from boss Sven Goran-Eriksson who trusted in assistant Tord Grip that he would be better served by taking defender Martin Keown over the enigmatic Jansen.

Jansen’s time would surely come again though. His undoubted talent meant he couldn’t be ignored for much longer. But weeks later his life, not just career, would be turned upside down after a road traffic accident while on holiday in Rome with then girlfriend, and now wife, Lucy.

Jansen would spend the next six days in a coma, have to learn the most basic of skills again, and try and re-build his life. But within four months, and despite the warnings of specialist doctors, he was back playing football in the Premier League.

The attacker details his post-accident struggles in an emotional and gripping autobiography What Was, What Is and What Might Have Been.

While there was no shortage of goodwill coming his way after the accident, and in his journey back to playing, Jansen says there was no way of conveying just how he felt at the time.

“My career wasn’t in the forefront of my mind but when I was rushed back I wasn’t the same. Doubts started creeping in, I started making mistakes, it wasn’t automatic. I had to think about everything,” he told the Lancashire Telegraph.

“I was convincing myself that I wasn’t normal and that nobody believed me because the scans were all clear.

“I had a brain injury but I couldn’t convince anybody. It wasn’t as comfortable as it used to be.

“They just used to say ‘it’s okay, you just need more games’ and that was probably adding fuel to the fire of my problems. That became a snowball and became worse and worse.

“It got so bad that it wasn’t able to fix.

“I was in a coma for the best part of a week, I then had to get back on my feet and have these neurological tests done, answering very simple questions to see how I was recovering, I was answering them all wrong.

“People said that I came back too soon, the neurologist kept saying I needed time away from football before playing, if at all.

“I was back playing within four months. My brain, and my injury, hadn’t had time to settle. I was still injured, but people couldn’t see it.”

Jansen credits the work of renowned sports psychologist Professor Steve Peters, who he still speaks with 17 years on, in helping him understand his injury, and hopes his account can help those in a similar position.

And while his was a unique story, he hopes society has moved to a position where mental health is more understood.

“I can’t criticise anyone. This was unique, no-one had ever dealt with anything like this before,” he added.

“It was a unique situation. Blackburn wanted the best for me and to get me back in the team as quickly as possible. In hindsight, would it have been different now? Probably.

“Should they have listened to the neurologist’s advice? Probably. But it was new.

“They did want the best for me, I know they did, and they were so supportive, whether the way they did it was the right way or not.”

The book has been well received, with Jansen revealing the response has been both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. His was a story worth telling, done superbly by author and journalist Jon Colman who first approached Jansen about the possibility some five years ago.

And now the journey has ended with its publication, Jansen hopes it can help put the record straight for some who may were naïve enough to think his was a story of wasted talent.

“Jon came to a match at Chorley and asked me about whether I want to do it and said I’d got a hell of a story to tell.

“I’d never thought about it and then he brought something to my attention. He’d read an article saying ‘Harry Kane: Beware of being the new England saviour. 10 players who had the hype but never made it’ and I was one of them.

“According to the naïve journalist it said ‘Matt Jansen, tipped for England but had an injury-ravaged career and ended up dropping through the leagues’. That isn’t the story.

“I got to the international level, in the book Sven says that I would have been an international. I would have played were it not for gastroenteritis, I was supposed to be going to the World Cup.

“So I got to that level and it was cruelly taken away in a road traffic accident.

“In later life, people soon forget and when you speak to people some say ‘oh you had a bad injury didn’t you?’.

“Obviously there are lots of people who are clued up, but that was one reason I wanted to put the story straight.

“But the main reason was because when it happened in 2002, mental health and struggling was frowned upon, you were weak. Nowadays it’s much more accepted and I wonder if I’d have had the accident in 2019 I’d have opened up a more or dealt with differently.

“I was always coy about saying anything and maybe my treatment would have been dealt with differently now. It’s all hypothetical, but I wanted to tell the story of my struggles and why I couldn’t get back because of my injury.

“It wasn’t like having a cruciate, a career ending injury, and people feeling sorry for you. No-one felt sorry for the person who couldn’t fix his head. I didn’t want sympathy, I wanted to explain the difficulties I’ve had and I’m pretty pleased with it.”

The book includes excerpts from Jansen’s wife, agent, former team-mates, managers, including Eriksson.  But it’s the words of his wife Lucy which struck a chord with the now 41-year-old.

“It was hard. Because we’ve never talked it, Lucy had her interviews with Jon separately to me, it was like a bit of a taboo subject,” he said.

“I thought she came in the ambulance and only when I read it, I thought I’d squeezed her hand in the ambulance but that was actually on the cobbles.

“It was eye-opening, not in a good or bad way, it actually explained a few things for me.”

Included in the title is ‘What Was’ - so how does Jansen view his playing career before the injury.

“I always had self doubts. I started at Carlisle and managed to grow my confidence and managed to get a move to Crystal Palace so my confidence grew again,” he said.

“I did well at Palace and then I moved to Blackburn Rovers with interest from a lot of clubs which helped with confidence again.

“I managed to play a few games and score some goals in the Premier League, scored in a league cup final and won a major trophy and then get called up for England.

“So I was on the trajectory of getting better and better. I was only 24 when the accident happened, I hadn’t had my peak years yet.

“At the time, at 24, the season before the accident I was on top of the world, getting better and better. So in terms of what you can achieved, I did, I got in to the international set-up, my time was coming.

“Those peak years were just taken away from me because of that incident in Rome.”

So do those thoughts of ‘What Might Have Been’ still stick with him now?

“It’s all hypothetical. Yes I could have gone on to play a number of games for England, played in the World Cup, I could have been a superstar. I might not have been, but I could have been.

“I believed I was invincible at 24 but could I have been even more reckless as I got older and ended up in a worse situation. Could I have ended without my wife and three kids? You just don’t know.

“It is what might have been, it could have worked out miles better for me, or it could have gone in a different way.”

And for the ‘What Is’.

Jansen left his role as manager of Chorley last summer but is itching to get back in to a game for which he has so much to offer.

The book has been his focus for some time, and on the way it’s been received, he said: “It has been fantastic. cocial media, I’m not massively in to it, it’s been through the roof.

“I will always have the support of the main clubs I’ve been at, Carlisle, Crystal Palace and Blackburn Rovers.

“The comments have been fantastic and at times heart-wrenching, it’s been fantastic.”

  • What Was, What Is and What Might Have Been: Matt Jansen - The Autobiography