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On the morning of January 22, 2021, Jordon Ibe bravely opened up about his battle with mental health.
In a statement on Instagram, the former Wycombe Wanderers, Liverpool and Bournemouth winger addressed his struggles to the world. "I've found myself in a dark place due to suffering from depression," he wrote. "It's no scheme for the media or to have my name in your mouths, I just find things hard, truly."
Ibe continued: "I appreciate all the love and messages from everyone. Times are hard in general due to this pandemic. I have full support from my family and Derby County. I will fix myself and this situation, which I'm 100 per cent committed to. Not only for my family, close friends and daughter but for me."
Like millions of others suffering in silence, Ibe had kept his mental well-being quiet for years; even to those closest to him. But on that Friday morning in January, something switched. He was desperate for change.
The 25-year-old's decision to publicise those struggles earlier this year will have no doubt saved lives.
In fact, it may have saved his own.
"It was the darkest time of my life," he says, nine months on. "It was a cry for help, to be honest. I felt like I needed to speak out because if not, I don't know what else could have happened. It's a good thing that I did."
There are still many misconceptions surrounding the life of a professional athlete. Perhaps one of the biggest is that these high-profile individuals are immune to suffering. In reality, mental health does not discriminate. It affects people from all walks of life.
Former Arsenal and West Ham midfielder Jack Wilshere recently said that footballers must speak out about their mental health and realise it is not a weakness. He admitted that talking about mental health has made a big difference in his life.
Ibe can certainly relate to that.
"I'm not trying to make people feel sorry for me," he tells SPORTbible. "I feel like it was very important that I spoke openly - and to my family - about it because you don't know what can come from mental health. I've been going through depression for the last four years."
As Wilshere rightly points out, depressive thoughts don't care if you're a footballer. Jordon's story is yet more proof that anyone can suffer.
It remains an ongoing problem faced by many professional footballers in today's society. Although a week-long boycott has raised awareness of the issue, targeted abuse towards players on various social media platforms has become normalised.
Manchester United defender Phil Jones removed himself from Twitter and Instagram four years ago because of the continued abuse he received. He recently opened up about the "toxic" environment of social media and the impact it is having on young players in particular.
Jones believes that youngsters coming into the game now have to be 'mentally capable' of handling that environment.
Ibe knows the crippling impact it can have.
"The criticism is tough," he admits. "It got to a stage where I saw a lot of people talking [on social media] and I think what hurt me most was when I was hearing negative comments here and there. I'm my own worst critic. I'm very critical of myself. I'm always looking to do better.
"I tried not to go on Twitter or Instagram as much but I still saw a lot of people giving their two cents on how my career was going. For me, that post [back in January] was also to let everyone know that I wasn't just chilling and relaxing at home while not playing football.
"I wanted to let people know about my mental health so they knew I wasn't trying to take the mick."
Only a handful of professional players have spoken publicly about their mental health. More often than not, those who are struggling to cope with criticism - and the demands they place on themselves - decide against confiding in others.
Wilshere said he always thought that speaking out or speaking to someone - especially in the media - would almost come across as a weakness. "The general perception of footballers is that 'they have everything, what have they got to moan about? They've got a great life.'" he analysed.
Ibe found it difficult to open up. He battled with depression for four years as he continued to compete in the ever-demanding world of professional football. After speaking about his mental health to others, he hopes more people can do the same.
"I'm going to be honest with you. In a way, sometimes I think to myself, ah, I don't want to touch on the subject just in case it affects me personally," he says. "But If my words reach out to five or ten people, that is going to help drastically to whoever's family that is.
"If I can help anyone then it has been worthwhile. That makes me happy.
"I know how difficult it can be to open up. Hopefully, more people can. If not then I hope they get better from their situation."
This past year or so has been a tough one in the career of Jordon Ibe.
Following his highly-anticipated move to Championship side Derby County last summer, the winger made just one appearance during the 2020/21 campaign, coming on for the final three minutes in a goalless draw with Stoke City in December. He would never play for the club again.
During that spell on the sidelines, negative comments on social media were having an impact on his self-confidence.
"At the time, obviously with not having my mental health in the best space, it was making me think: 'you know what, what if they are right about what they are saying?'
"I knew it wasn't right in terms of the way I treat football and my attitude towards the game but it was still making me feel down."
When asked what he would say to someone who was actively trolling online, the London-born winger made his feelings known. "You don't realise the impact you are having on that person's life and how it could affect their mental health," he says. "It's not something to play with."
Back in July, six months after his last appearance, Derby confirmed in a statement that they had agreed to cancel Ibe's contract by mutual consent. The club wished him all the best in his future endeavours and said they would always have fond memories of his time in a Rams shirt.
Two weeks after his departure was confirmed, he would suffer a broken leg while training.
"It was a very difficult one," he admits. "I've not had an injury that bad. It's something that I'm still getting over now. I'm coming towards the end of that, though. I'm off crutches. I'm at a good stage now. It's time to knuckle down and get myself back on the pitch."
Listening to the former England U21 international speak so passionately about his situation hammers home how determined he is to stage a comeback. Now back on his feet after recovering from a serious injury setback, Ibe is desperate for game time.
"I want a return sooner rather than later. I've been missing the game," he says.
"I have missed football a lot. Honestly. I wouldn't say it has been irritating but, I've been a bit agitated. I want to get back. It's been a long time since I've played a competitive game. I'm just eager to get back on the pitch. I'm eager to get back in training, to play alongside some good players, to have that competitiveness back.
"I want to have that feeling of running at a player again."
A number of clubs have already approached Ibe and his entourage about a potential transfer, with reports suggesting former club Charlton Athletic are keen on bringing him back to The Valley, but he has yet to make a final decision.
The 25-year-old knows he needs to be at his physical peak before contemplating a return.
"I haven't said yes or no to the approaches," he says. "I've just been focused on getting myself fit and when I get to that stage, that's when I can start looking and seeing where I want to take my career to the next level.
"I can hopefully make a comeback now because this is what I've wanted to do from a young age. I need to get back."
The former Liverpool man, who spent four years at Anfield after signing for the club at 16, has been working every day to get in the best physical shape possible. He is making serious changes off the pitch and recently decided to eat more plant-based meals in a bid to gain that extra edge. "It's in the early stages but it's helping," he says.
He also watches plenty of games on television, finding motivation from the very best. "Seeing players like Ronaldo back in England, seeing Messi in the Champions League. Seeing all the top players is inspiring. It has been so good recently."
In terms of his mental health, Ibe says he is in "a much better place" at the moment.
"I'm not just saying it to make people think he's doing well after such a long time off but I'm genuinely feeling much better within myself," he says with a smile on his face. "Happier, for sure."
Ibe admits to also working on being the best man he can possibly be.
He has made mistakes in the past but is ready to push on and improve as both a person and a footballer.
"I'm not saying I've been the worst of people, but I want to try and better my situation for my family. I want to make sure I keep everything locked in. Football is a long career in some ways, but short as well. I just want to try and get all that settled."
As he continues his journey, Ibe knows how important family has been throughout all of this. He wants the best for all of them, especially his young daughter Ariana.
In the past, the 25-year-old has said she has been his motivation for climbing out of the darkness and into the light. Ultimately, Ibe wants to make her proud.
"She has been key in my life in the past two years," he says. "Having her in my life has made me have something to be very proud of. I want to do her proud.
"I think to myself, you know what, let me make this transition. Let me get my head in the right space and make a comeback. In the future, I want to say I did turn this situation around and I did better my daughter's life."
As the interview comes to an end, I ask Ibe about his ambitions for the future. After all his struggles, it's great to hear that he is in a better place.
"My short term goal is to get back on the pitch; it's not going to be the easiest road," he admits. "Nothing is given to you easily in this life. You can't take anything for granted.
"I also want to get back to a situation that I've been in before. I want to play in the Premier League again and strive for a better situation; a better second half of my career compared to the first.
"For now, It's just great to be in a good headspace, both mentally and physically. It's going terrific."
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