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.
“Sven Goran-Eriksson took Martin Keown and he didn’t play a minute in the tournament.
“I then had my motorcycle accident in Italy when the tournament was being played and everything changed from then on.”
Part Two of our interview with Matt Jansen will be on Non-League Daily on Wednesday, as he discusses the aftermath of his motorcycle accident, a former team mate enticing him back into football via the non-league and his hopes and ambitions for Chorley and his managerial career.
Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Images: www.actionimages.com / Chorley FC