Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard has revealed that he turned to drinking as a result of mental health struggles and even considered leaving the Premier League for China or Saudi Arabia, before deciding to resurrect his career with ‘Project Jesse 2.0’.
Lingard fell badly out of form in 2019 and was dropped out of favour virtually altogether at United in early 2020. He had already been the victim of plenty of online abuse and there were times at his lowest, completely devoid of confidence, that he didn’t even want to leave his house.
At his lowest point, Lingard wanted to leave England, but believed that even going somewhere else in Europe would still have left him exposed to intense scrutiny.
But when the UK was plunged into national lockdown in March 2020 and football was suspended, Lingard took it as an opportunity hire a personal coach and get himself back on track.
“We had times during the bad periods when I started to resort to drinking at night and that wasn't me. My dad's never been a big drinker. My mum's never been a big drinker,” the player explained in an in-depth interview with the Daily Mail.
“I was bottling up so much in my head that I had resorted to drinking to try to ease the pain. I've never been a big drinker, but I was resorting to that for my own peace. When I finally opened up and started speaking to family, it really helped. I owe it to them.
“At my lowest point, I was thinking, 'I need to get away from England'. Not to Spain, but to China or Saudi Arabia, somewhere to stay out of the limelight and only concentrate on football.
"When lockdown came, I wanted to use that to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and then show people what I could do,” he added.
Working alongside personal coach Alexandros Alexiadis, a long-time contact of older brother Louie Scott, Lingard readied himself to get back to his best. That chance didn’t initially come with United, even though he was preparing for games in great detail just in case and, in his own words, ‘still training like a professional. I wasn't moping about.’
He still wasn’t playing for United by the halfway stage of the 2020/21, not making a single Premier League appearance and featuring only twice in the EFL Cup. But he convinced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to let him leave on loan in January, with West Brom and Newcastle both options before West Ham made their approach direct from ex-United manager David Moyes.
Referring to a whiteboard he had in his flat in east London while at West Ham, Lingard explained the motivation it gave him to succeed after coming back from his lowest.
“My brother put it up,” he said. “I woke up every morning and looked at the board. He'd write a new word each night and eventually it was all filled in. Words which meant something to us. 'GET AT HIM,' was one. 'WC18,' as a reminder of that tournament. 'THREE CUP FINAL GOALS,' to mark my FA Cup, EFL Cup, Community Shield finals.
“Little things to reiterate what I'd done and achieved. The whiteboard was good. I'll do it again this season. We wrote down a reasonable target of four goals and two assists by the March internationals and we did that. I was enjoying my football and when confident, I'll believe I can score a goal or two a game.”
Lingard finished the season with nine goals and five assists in 16 Premier League games for West Ham, helping the club finish sixth and qualify for the Europa League group stage. He will go down as one of the Premier League’s greatest ever loan signings and even played his way back into contention at his parent club, something which had previously looked impossible.
He was absent for the opening game of the season against Leeds on Saturday but is expected to be available for selection once more when United face Southampton next weekend.