Jesse Lingard's loan spell at West Ham from Manchester United has rejuvenated the winger's career, but the 28-year-old England international says he was considering taking a leave from football to address mental health issues affecting both him and his family.
Lingard revealed that his mother's struggle with depression had weighed heavily on him in recent years to the point that he wanted to step away from the sport.
“Not quit football, just have a time out really,” Lingard told the YouTuber channel 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.”
The native of Warrington says that his mother began receiving treatment in London last year, which meant he was tasked with taking care of his younger siblings while she was an inpatient. He said the responsibilities took a heavy toll on him.
“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 said that the break last spring due to the COVID-19 lockdown allowed him the opportunity to reevaluate both himself and his game and it gave him a new outlook.
“I feel like lockdown has kind of transitioned me in a way," Lingard said. "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 been a revelation at West Ham. In 10 matches with the Hammers under his former United manager David Moyes, Lingard has scored nine goals and has West Ham sitting in fifth and pushing for a Champions League place for the first time in club history.
For his part, Lingard says that mentally, he is in a good place right now.
“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," Lingard said. "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."
In what will be the club's biggest match of the season to date, West Ham hosts Chelsea at London Stadium on Saturday.