Non-League Daily Editor Mark Carruthers met with Chorley manager Matt Jansen to discuss his playing career and his hopes for his career in the dugout with the Magpies
It takes a brave man to reject one of the greatest managers world football has ever seen not just once, but twice, but bravery is a quality that Matt Jansen has shown throughout his career.
The Chorley manager began his playing career with hometown club Carlisle United, forging a reputation as one of the Football League’s brightest talents.
The embroyonic stages of his career with the Cumbrians were played out in the days of Michael Knighton’s ownership of the club.
Three years before taking over the Cumbrians, Knighton infamously tried to buy Manchester United, even making an appearance on the Old Trafford pitch, dressed in their famous red kit, before performing skills in front of a shocked Old Trafford.
The takeover fell through, leaving Knighton to take a place on the Manchester United board, only to leave once the opportunity came to buy Carlisle United.
Set against the turbulent backdrop of Brunton Park, Jansen impressed, in fact he drew attention from some of the Premier League’s biggest names at the time.
Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Newcastle United were all regular attenders at Brunton Park.
The Magpies, then under the guidance of Kenny Dalglish, never turned their interest into a formal bid, leaving Palace and Manchester United in a straight battle for Jansen’s undoubted talent.
To the surprise of many in the football world Jansen chose a move to Crystal Palace, choosing the promise of first team football over life alongside the likes of Roy Keane, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs.
Looking relaxed after his side’s 2-nil victory over Dunston UTS in the FA Cup, the thirty eight year old reflected upon his decision to snub United in favour of a £1m move to Selhurst Park that took him into English football’s top flight in 1998.
“It was a great time to be at Carlisle United in the mad days of Michael Knighton.
“I broke into the first team and did well and he decided to tout me around different clubs.
“It felt like it was daily and there were the likes of Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Newcastle and I think Ipswich Town were mentioned too.
“He just wanted as much money as possible for me and in the end it came to a head.
“I said you either want to keep me or sell me and he told me the two highest bids were from Crystal Palace and Manchester United.
“They were accepted and I went to Palace for a couple of days, then I spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson as well. I wanted to carry on playing in the first team so I chose Palace because that was a Manchester United side with the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and four great strikers.
“I didn’t think I would get a game so I chose to go to Palace because I believed I would get regular first team football”
Indeed, Jansen did get first team football at Crystal Palace in a somewhat turbulent time for the Eagles.
Managerial changes were frequent, even Italy star Attilio Lombardo found his way into the Selhurst Park dugout.
There were financial difficulties but not for the first time in his career Jansen flourished in adverse conditions.
Ten goals in twenty six appearances saw transfer speculation start again.
Jansen’s boyhood favourites Newcastle United, by this time managed by Ruud Gullit, again showed interest without making a bid.
This time Blackburn Rovers were favourites, although Sir Alex Ferguson made a second bid to take Jansen to Old Trafford in 1999.
Again the Scot was to be frustrated by Jansen, although this time financial issues at Palace played a part in his decision not to move to Manchester United.
Jansen decided to accept an offer from Rovers, allowing Palace to pocket the £4.1m in one payment to ease their financial worries.
So after snubbing Sir Alex twice does Jansen still believe he made the right decision?
“I did back then, but I was at a charity golf day hosted by Sir Alex recently and he made a point of coming up to talk to me.
“He said ‘Hey you, you never signed for me when I wanted you’.
“I said I knew I would have more chance of playing first team football at Palace and that was why I went there.
“He then said why the hell would I sign you and put you in the reserves?
“I don’t regret that move but they came in again when Palace were in some financial trouble.
“Brian Kidd was manager at Blackburn by then and Jack Walker was able to pay the £4.1m fee up front, so Palace asked if I would go there to help the club.
“That’s the reason I turned down Manchester United a second time.”
Jansen’s spell at Ewood Park was unquestionably the most successful of his playing career.
Despite suffering a relegation from the Premier League at the end of the 1998/99 season, Jansen used the demotion as a catalyst to take his career on to a new level.
In the aftermath of their relegation Rovers parted company with manager Brian Kidd.
His replacement was former Liverpool manager Graeme Souness.
His impact was immediate and Jansen was one of the main beneficiaries.
Rovers secured an immediate return back to the Premier League, with only Fulham’s Louis Saha scoring more league goals in the 2000/01 season.
Jansen and Rovers were back in the big time, and according to he man himself that is down the Souness.
“Graeme Souness took over when we were relegated under Brian Kidd” said Jansen.
“Souness came in, he was stern but you took it because he had done it all in the game.
“He was great for us and I got on very well with him. He drove us forward and I agree with his ‘It’s free to work hard’ ethos and that is what he demanded from his players.
“We had a good squad and he created a great dressing room environment. We did everything together, we socialised and before a big game against Burnley he took us to Dubai.
“He got hammered for that but we came back refreshed and beat them 5-0. He was all about the team and I have taken that on board and still use some of his methods in my role at Chorley. He was probably the manager I learnt the most from in my career.”
Jansen managed to take his Football League form into the Premier League with Rovers, something many strikers struggle to do in a promoted side.
A mid-table finish was secured and for the first time in the club’s history they won the League Cup, then known as the Worthington Cup.
Jansen scored the first goal in the final, as Rovers secured a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur and his form led to media speculation that an England call-up was on the horizon.
That speculation was proven to be true, as Sven Goran-Eriksson called Jansen into a squad for a World Cup 2002 warm-up game against Paraguay.
Then fate was to step in, with a stomach bug denying Jansen of the opportunity to impress the Swede.
Eriksson eventually chose to take Arsenal defender Martin Keown to the World Cup in Japan and South Korea, leaving Jansen to ponder what might have been.
Fate, this time of the cruellest variety, was to strike again as Jansen suffered a life-threatening motorcycle accident.
In his words “everything changed from then on”.
He said: “I had been touted around to get a call-up for a while in the press and I knew I was playing well.
“I was full of confidence and I was riding a wave in all honesty.
“It’s only now that you look back and you think what a good squad that was to get into.
“I was told I would go to the World Cup in Japan and South Korea and it built up my ego.
“I believed I was there, I believed I had done it and unfortunately fate worked against me.
“The first squad I got into I took ill and I couldn’t get a game in before the World Cup so I missed out on the twenty-two man squad.
“I then had my motorcycle accident in Italy when the tournament was being played and everything changed from then on.”
After missing out on a place in England’s 2002 World Cup squad, Matt Jansen experienced a summer that would change his life and his football career forever.
The ever-pragmatic Swedish manager snubbed attacking flair and chose to take an extra defender to the tournament, with Arsenal’s Martin Keown getting the nod over an in-form Jansen.
England’s ‘Golden Generation’ failed to live up to expectations once again at a major tournament, with eventual winners Brazil sending them home in the quarter finals.
As a Ronaldinho-inspired Brazil sent England packing, Jansen lay in a Rome hospital bed following a moped accident.
With his wife on the back, he waited at a crossroads in the middle of Rome, when a taxi hit them.
The accident left Jansen in a coma for a week.
As we stand in the Tyneside sunshine, Jansen is visibly delighted with his side’s FA Cup win over Northern League club Dunston but he shows a stern looking face as he recalls the true impact of the accident some fourteen years ago.
Jansen admitted that the effects of the crash went far beyond the physical injuries suffered, as he revealed that the events in Rome had “killed” his career and sent him into depression.
“It was massive, it killed my playing career I think,” he said
“I was in a coma for six or seven days and as a player I couldn’t get back to the same level.
“It was a horrible time, I suffered with depression and it takes time to realise you aren’t really in that bad of a situation.”
Support came from those closest to Jansen, at a time when depression was a taboo in the uber-macho world of football.
Even now it is still seen as a sore subject, but fourteen years ago it was almost unheard of for a top-flight footballer to admit to suffering from depression.
At the time, Jansen spoke to Professional Footballers Association (PFA) Chairman Gordon Taylor, as well as key figures at Blackburn Rovers and believes that they did “all that they could without really understanding the situation”.
“I spoke to Gordon Taylor at the PFA and to Blackburn and I think now, with depression, it’s more broadcast, it’s easier to talk about it.
“Back then I think they did all that they could without really understanding the situation.
“More people understand it now, the club [Blackburn] managed it well [at the time].
“I spoke to psychologists that the club brought in and I also found support from friends and family.
“The PFA and the club supported me at a time when they maybe didn’t know how to deal with it at that point because there wasn’t a lot of players experiencing it in the open.”
Jansen made a comeback, scoring for Rovers just over five months after the accident.
However, he always felt he wasn’t at the same level.
A loan spell followed in 2003 as he joined Coventry City for a short spell.
Rovers released Jansen in 2006, joining their North West rivals Bolton Wanderers days later.
His stay at Wanderers was brief and he departed the club after only five months.
Trials with MLS clubs led to nothing and he had spells training with former clubs Bolton, Blackburn and Carlisle United.
A trial with Huddersfield Town saw Jansen score in a reserve game against Rotherham United, but no deal was forthcoming.
Jansen eventually moved into non-league with Wrexham, joining the Welsh club in March 2011, on a deal lasting until the end of the season.
In non-league Jansen found solace and a new purpose.
He said: “You’ve got to realise that in a short space of time I went from a highest of highs to a lowest of lows, that is tough to take.
“Eventually, six or seven years later it just hit me, out of nowhere almost.
“I knew I had to do all I could to put it behind me and that is why I focused on non-league and now my managerial career.”
One source of support came from his former Blackburn Rovers captain Garry Flitcroft.
Flitcroft was at Leigh Gensis and asked Jansen to join him at the Magpies as a player-assistant manager.
Despite walking away from the game that he loved, Jansen was ready to get back in.
A move to Chorley followed for Flitcroft and Jansen followed him to Victory Park.
He had “itchy feet” joked Jansen, as he paid tribute to the man that led him into his coaching career, as he eventually succeeded Flitcroft in the dugout with the Magpies.
“Garry was great for me.
“Flitty was captain of Blackburn when I was there under Souness and he was at the heart of everything that the manager fostered in the changing room.
“He was a leader, an organiser on and off the pitch.
“He asked me to join him at Chorley when he became manager and I jumped at the chance.
“But I had walked away from the game, I was done with it, it had destroyed me.
“I don’t mind saying I got itchy feet, I wanted back in and I am grateful that Flitty allowed me to do that.
“He had to step down to focus on his business and he asked me to take over his realm. I have done my [UEFA] A and B licences and I felt ready to take it on.”
Jansen is a rarity in non-league football.
The sight of a former top flight player standing in the dugout at a non-league club are all-too-rare.
Former Chelsea and Leicester City defender Frank Sinclair had spells as manager of Hednesford Town and Colwyn Bay, whilst former Fulham full back Rufus Brevett is currently manager of Combined Counties League club Hanworth Villa.
John Eustace, once of Derby County and Coventry City, was named as new manager of Vanarama National League North club Kidderminster Harriers in June 2016.
But Jansen believes that more former Premier League players should take on the “steep learning curve” that non-league football offers.
“I think more Premier League players should take a chance and move into non-league playing and management.
“It’s a totally different game but it offers a steep learning curve for anyone, even if they have played at the top level.
“Last season I inherited the team and I have made a lot of changes.
“We are doing ok this season in a very tough league.
“I have learnt so much in my time in non-league and especially since I came to Chorley.
“I don’t want to stop learning, I want to develop my skills and I have the perfect platform to do that.
“It is good experience and I hope to use it to progress in my managerial career.”
But what qualifies as progress for Jansen and his Chorley side?
The Magpies currently sit in the final play-off position in the Vanarama National League North, just five points behind leaders AFC Fylde.
They are surrounded by some of non-league football’s most famous names.
Stockport County, Kidderminster Harriers, Boston United; this year’s National League North is not for the feint hearted.
The likes of an upwardly mobile Darlington and Class of 92 owned Salford City have been thrown into an already competitive league.
The challenges facing Jansen are obvious, “finances aren’t massive” he admits, but from the determined look on his face you can see this isn’t an issue.
His squad has been put together with a sense of evolution from Flitcroft’s tenure, rather than revolution many may have expected.
The target is National League football, and Jansen revealed that he is taking inspiration from one of the Premier League’s greatest ever title wins.
“I would love to take Chorley as far as I can possibly take them,” said Jansen.
“Finances aren’t massive, we are probably in the bottom five budgets in a very, very tough league.
“It is all ifs and buts with us.
“If we progress, will there be investment?
“You look at Leicester City, it’s a well-used example.
“They spent money but it wasn’t at the same level as some clubs.
“They won the Premier League, nobody thought they would do that. We can get promoted, I think we can anyway because we have some quality but I understand when people say we can’t do that.
“They look at some clubs in the division and they put them first, I know why they do that and I don’t blame them.”
When asked of his own personal targets for his managerial career Jansen gives a purposeful answer, although a mask of determination did slip for once as he joked that the English football’s top job may be a step too far.
“I am ambitious, I was as a player and I am maybe even more ambitious now.
“I’d love to manage at a higher level and ideally that would be with Chorley because I have learnt so much here.
“I played in the Premier League, I got international recognition for it and that came by being ambitious.
“That doesn’t mean I want to be England manager, I think they are well covered in that now!
“But I want to go as far as I can in management.
“But first I want to get the club up into the National League and then who knows from there?”
Matt Jansen has taken his first steps into football management, if the bravery shown throughout his career are anything to go by then many more steps will follow.
Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: www.actionimages.com / Chorley FC