Jesse Lingard has revealed he considered taking a break from football last year because of mental health issues affecting him and his family but believes talking openly about his feelings since has helped to rejuvenate his career.
Lingard has scored nine times since moving to West Ham on loan from Manchester United in January to earn an England recall, having not played a minute in the Premier League for his parent club this season, and is expected to be part of Gareth Southgate’s squad for this summer’s European Championship.
The 28-year-old has admitted his mother’s struggles with depression affected his mental health while he was at United and made him seriously consider whether he wanted to continue playing.
“Not quit football, just have a time out really,” he told the entertainment show Presenting… “I was going into games happy sitting on the bench and that’s not me. I was telling my brother the other day: ‘Remember when I was happy sitting on the bench and all this?’ I didn’t want to play because 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 can’t do it.”
Lingard’s mother has lived with depression for most of her life and received treatment in London last year that meant the United midfielder was looking after his younger brother and sister while playing – a situation he admitted was a struggle.
“Through the years we had the help for her, but even just for me it’s hard to bottle things up,” Lingard said. “It feels like you’re not the same person. I felt like I wasn’t Jesse Lingard. 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 … So, 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.”
Lingard had been a regular at United under Ole Gunnar Solskjær until last season but rarely featured after Christmas because of his struggles off the pitch. The player who joined the academy as a seven-year-old and was a part of the England side that reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 believes the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020 was the turning point.
“I could have easily quit in lockdown, been like: ‘Nah I don’t want to do it’. I could have easily given up but the fight in me always brings me back to life and in lockdown I was just smashing gym, doing runs. I wanted to get back to training fitter and faster than anyone else and I did that.
“I feel like lockdown has kind of transitioned me in a way. I watched my old games back and watched the World Cup games back and I thought: ‘Yeah, that’s the real Jesse Lingard.’ The time that I had going a couple seasons back or last season, it just wasn’t me at all and you can see that. 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.’ And even he didn’t know what I was going through at the time.”
Lingard has thrived under the former United manager David Moyes at West Ham as they attempt to secure a top four-finish, but his future remains unclear with the loan due to expire at the end of the season. Whatever happens, he feels ready again to give his all after such a difficult 12 months.
“I feel like with my mum and me I’ve learnt that when you open up you feel like a butterfly – you’re in a cocoon and then you can spread your wings, you can fly. It’s an amazing feeling and now I’ve got all that behind me and I can concentrate on football and my family.
“Of course, you’re going to get dragged through and there are going to be highs and lows and you might have a low point but you’ve got to find that something in you, that never give up, that attitude to go again, go again, go again, because I’ve never been a quitter.”