Clear the Whiteboard

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This is a story about me, but really it’s about my brother Lou.

Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. No chance.

Well, not without him and his two whiteboards, but I’ll get to that.

First, let’s talk about the setbacks.

About two months ago, I was buzzing. The fans were back at Old Trafford. I was feeling sharp in preseason. Ole was happy with me. I couldn’t wait for the Prem to start.

Then a week before our first game, I tested positive for COVID-19.

Ten days in isolation. Gutted.

But believe it or not, that wasn't even the worst thing that happened to me last summer. Back in June, I really thought I had done enough to get into the final 26 for the Euros. Obviously, I respected Gareth’s decision, but when I rang to tell my brother, well ... I cried. Lou cried as well.

Two years ago, that news would have crushed me completely.

When I rang to tell my brother, well ... I cried. Lou cried as well. Jesse Lingard

Thankfully, I’m in a better place these days. When the boys played the opener, I wasn’t going to sit around and mope. I might not have been playing, but I was still a fan, right?? So I pulled on a shirt — I’m close to Dec, so it had to be RICE 4 on the back — and I went to a pub with Lou and some friends. This guy there was walking around with a parrot — how random is that? — and suddenly it’s sitting right on my shoulder watching us beat Croatia!!

You gotta love the pub when England are playing — the atmosphere, the energy. I took some pics, signed some autographs. I’m not really sure how it happened, but soon I was on the DJ decks!

What an afternoon that was.

I’ll say this to every player: Join the fans in a pub at least once during your career. It just gives you a different perspective.

Courtesy of Jesse Lingard
Courtesy of Jesse Lingard

Let me be clear, though: While watching the boys is always great fun, playing for England is massive for me. Every time I pull on that shirt I feel blessed.

To be able to ring my family and tell them that I had gotten the call-up again for the internationals in September was a huge feeling. And then to do it again for the latest squad to face Andorra and Hungary … I can’t even describe it, except to say: It feels good to be back!

Being a part of this team in particular for the Euros would have been really special, given everything it went on to achieve and the way it brought people together and changed perspectives. Of course I would have wanted to be one of the final 26.

But I chose to look at the big picture. In November 2020, I had been nowhere near the squad. I wasn’t even thinking about it. So when I got the call-up in March, that was huge for me. Honestly, just to be in the mix was a bonus.

You gotta remember where I was coming from.

You gotta understand how low I’d really sunk.

Making it to the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup was one of the best experiences of my career. You remember that song?

“Whoa, England are in Russia … Whoa, drinking all your vodka … Whoa, England’s going all the way!”

So jokes.

But then, right after I came back for the 2018–19 season, I got this injury in my groin. Osteitis pubis. Proper niggly one.

I’ve always run a lot in games, like 12, 13 kilometres. That takes a toll, but I’d always been able to push myself. This time it was different. I couldn’t keep going. After a few matches, I just stopped. Couldn’t play, couldn’t train. My body had just had enough. Everything came grinding to a halt — right when I was on that high.

Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

José Mourinho was the Manchester United manager back then and … well, he didn’t really like his players being injured. He didn’t want to know about it.

And I’m like, “It’s not my fault, is it, Boss?!”

Me and José had a good relationship generally, though, I have to say. He was good to me. Before all the injury stuff, he trusted me, put me in for important games. We won trophies and he made me a winner. He could just bring out that side in you.

He also liked to have a personal connection with his players. Sometimes I’d look at my phone and I’d be getting a random FaceTime from him. Just out of nowhere — just to check in.

I used to find it so strange at first.

He’d call and be like, “Hey Jesse, what are you doing?”

And I’d be like, “Erm, just chilling, watching TV … (awkward silence) … what are you doing?”

Hahaha!

I found it funny. And, to be fair, it showed how much he cared about us.

But in terms of injuries, yeah, it was tough, because he didn’t want to hear it.

We won trophies and he made me a winner. He could just bring out that side in you. Jesse Lingard

From that point, I couldn’t get back to where I had been. I was struggling mentally as well as physically. There was the off-field stuff with my mum and her battle with depression. I’ve talked about it before, and that isn’t what this story is about — but that affected me, too. It’s my mum, you know?

Not playing only made things worse. But when I finally did play, even when I was fit again … I wasn’t me. My family kept coming to games, but they couldn’t even watch me. They were like, ‘This ain’t you. This ain’t your aura.” Games were passing me by like I wasn't there. Like a ghost.

I even remember Bruno Fernandes coming to me before a game and saying, “Today I want to see the Jesse Lingard that I know.”

All I could think was, “Mate, I can’t, ’cause this is not me!”

I love football. Love it to death. But there were times when I thought, “I just can’t do this anymore.”

David Ramos/FIFA via Getty Images
David Ramos/FIFA via Getty Images

In my personal life, I buried myself in my phone. Face glued to screens. You might get a mm-hmm out of me in a conversation, but I wasn’t really listening. I was bottling it all up. All these emotions and all this stress.

I became a target for the media. I was getting picked on.

It went like that all season and well into the next. In a year and a half, I went from top of the world to as low as I’d ever been.

So much so that when lockdown came … it’s weird to say, but despite everything, it was a good thing for me, personally. I had pretty much written myself off.

Suddenly I got a chance to hit that reset button.

This is the part where my brother Lou comes in.

We’ve always been tight and he’s always looked out for me, like an older brother does, you know? He saw my potential at a very young age and he’s always given me advice and pushed me. But in that period of my life, he really stepped up.

Lou never wrote me off.

During lockdown, whenever he knew I was feeling low, he would send me these clips of myself. Me scoring goals, me playing at the World Cup, me winning trophies. And he’d write, “Look what you can do. Believe in yourself. You are a class player.”

I had pretty much written myself off. Jesse Lingard

He was pretty much bombarding me. And soon I had seen so many messages that I started to believe him.

Maybe I am still a good player?

I kept myself fit in lockdown, and he was setting targets for me to hit during workouts. He’d even send me his 5K times, trying to beat mine.

(Sorry, Bro, but that ain’t happening. Haha!)

He was the one who told me, “If you go out on loan, you’ll smash it!”

I finally found the courage to talk to Ole and the guys at United about everything I was going through. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but Ole’s not just a manager, he’s a friend. I’ve known him for ages. He gave me my debut for the reserves way back. He’d always tell me, “Anything you need, just knock on my door.”

When I did finally talk to him about everything that was going on, his response was, “I wish you’d come to me sooner.”

After he said that, I was like, "Why didn't I say anything before?"

I thought I could do it all on my own, but I couldn’t. You need people.

This was halfway through last season. Ole wanted me to stay at United and help the team last January, but for my own sake he understood that I needed to go. I needed to play regular football again. I needed a new environment.

I just needed a club to take a chance on me.

Then with Deadline Day approaching, everything went crazy, I’m telling you. We’d only really heard whispers about West Ham’s interest and there wasn’t much time left to complete a deal. First the loan was on ... then off ... then back on again. I was going through a roller coaster of emotions.

When the deal finally got done, I was buzzing to start fresh. If the medical had been done in time, I would’ve played against Liverpool two days after I signed. I was that ready.

Justin Tallis/Pool/Getty Images
Justin Tallis/Pool/Getty Images

I felt like I just fit in straight away. There’s a great group of lads at West Ham. They made that transition so easy for me.

When I first arrived, I was like, “Get me in the group chats!!”

Dec, Freddo, Aaron, Nobes. They were always just coming for each other.

Freddo — that’s Ryan Fredericks — would just see you come into training and be like, “Pfffft, wow I can’t believe what you’ve done.”

And I’d be like, “What? What have I done?!”

He was just scaring me, right?

And he’d keep it up all day, until eventually you started breaking down like, “Yo, wait, have I really done something?” And then you realise there’s nothing and he’s just having you on.

Then there’s Mark Noble. Let me tell you about Nobes. He’s got banter, or at least he thinks he does. He had it in for me from the time the gaffer called me Golden Boy in training.

We were doing boxes and the ball went out. I touched it last, but David Moyes was like, “No, no, no, Jesse doesn’t have to go in the middle. He’s our Golden Boy!”

After that Nobes was after me!

Seriously though, he took me under his wing and explained to me what West Ham is all about. I remember on one of my first away games, I was sitting in the back of his car on the way to the airport. It was just me, him and Aaron Cresswell.

Immediately, I was on my phone. Just automatic, as you do. But he wasn’t having any of it. He turned to me saying, “Whoa, no phones allowed in here! We talk.”

I was like, “O.K. … fine.”

On the plane, I would normally whack the headphones on and listen to music, but Nobes and the rest of the guys wouldn’t stand for it.

It was like that everywhere at West Ham, proper conversations about everything. No phones, no social media. No more mm-hmm. If we were having dinner at a hotel, we’d stay down there for ages just talking. It helped us bond as a team, and personally, it helped me a lot.

What you saw at West Ham was the player I can be when everything is coming together.Jesse Lingard

There is another part of what changed for me during those months … and that was all down to Lou.

When we moved down to London, one of the first things he did was set up these two whiteboards in our flat.

He brought them in and I was like, What is he doing?

He goes, “This one’s for targets, this one’s for motivation. Boom. Boom.”

On the left, you had goals, assists, distances, shots, take-ons, everything.

On the right, it was all motivational stuff: key words, quotes, stuff to get me hyped.

He wrote down some targets for before the international break: four goals, two assists. I told him, “Nah, put like eight goals … nine goals!”

He was like, “Bro, if you go too high at the start, you might not hit it.”

So we went with four goals and two assists.

I hit both.

Lou was like, “Alright, six goals, four assists.” Hit that too.

Tick. Tick.

The quotes worked as well, mate. My motivation was through the roof. Everything I needed was all there on those two boards.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

I say everything ... we had to add Premier League Player of the Month and Goal of the Month.

When I first got nominated for Player of the Month in February, we were like, “What’s this then?! Err, add it to the board!”

Then it became three nominations in a row, February, March, April! I’d been on the shortlist before in my career, but had never won.

I felt really close in March, but Kelechi Iheanacho bagged a hat trick and snuck it … probably deserved it, to be fair.

By April, I had forgotten about it (honestly). Then the media guy at West Ham sent me a voice note, and he's like, "You've won Player … and Goal of the Month."

I rang Lou straight away. It didn’t sink in until I told my family and I heard how emotional they were. Then I was like, Wow, this is big.

Back to the whiteboard.

Tick. Tick.

After that Bruno Fernandes referred to me as the “best player in the Premier League” in an interview with United … me!! Can you believe that?!? That’s coming from Bruno!

I’ve got a lot of love for Bruno. He was dropping me messages of support throughout my loan. To get that recognition from someone at his level was just amazing.

Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images
Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images

After that, Lou told me that maybe I had overachieved. Hahaha!

I wasn’t overachieving, though. What you saw at West Ham was the player I can be when everything is coming together. Let’s say it was an upgraded version of the old Jesse Lingard.

Jesse 2.0.

When I came back to United, I felt like a different person. I’m more mature, more confident. I’m taking more responsibility. To be fair, I’ve got to credit Moyes and the West Ham lads for that. Cheers for everything, boys.

I’ve been so excited about this season. It might sound like a funny thing to say when you’ve been at a club all your life, but I have really wanted to show people what I can do, you know what I mean?

I don’t want to be the player who does well for just a few weeks or months. I want to show how many goals and assists I can get over 30-plus games.

Same goes for England. I’m so honoured to be back in the squad again after the journey I’ve been on. To bag those two goals against Andorra during the last break ... honestly, I was just buzzing!

But I want more.

No more quarantine. No more injuries or interruptions.

Let’s see what Jesse 2.0 has got in his locker.

This definitely feels like a fresh start for me. And for us, really, because Lou is still my personal coach, motivator and whatever else you want to call him. He’ll be with me all the way.

Thank you, Bro, for helping me be the real me.

We’ve cleared the whiteboard.

Now let’s move.

We’ve got some targets to hit.