Youngster explains how false dawns have fuelled his desire to keep improving.
It’s clear to see Southampton have benefited from the arrival of Ralph Hasenhüttl as the club’s First Team Manager.
Having won only one of 15 games at the start of the Premier League season, the new boss has masterminded four victories from eight league games at the helm, despite tough-looking fixtures and limited time to train his players over a typically chaotic festive period.
The team has improved, as have individuals within it. Nathan Redmond is a prime example: flicking a switch from one goal in 58 games, to five in his last eight.
But few players, even Redmond himself, can claim to have benefited from Hasenhüttl’s appointment quite to the extent of Jan Bednarek.
Having waited and waited for his chance, the Polish defender finally made his Premier League debut nine months into his Saints career, marking the occasion with a goal against Chelsea last April.
“You start to play in the Premier League, as I did last season, playing the last five games, and we stayed up,” he picks up the story.
“Then playing at the World Cup, your hopes are growing… and it happens again.
“It happened again,” he reiterates, as if still coming to terms with the setback. “I didn’t play, I didn’t get any chances to get some minutes, and that was a tough moment for me.
“I was not playing any games for my club and I was fighting for my place again. At one point, I had more minutes for the national team than for my club this season, so it was really tough.”
Bednarek admits he was surprised not to start the season opener against Burnley, having been such a pivotal figure for the 2017/18 run-in.
For the following game, against Everton at Goodison Park, he was out of the squad completely.
By the time of Hasenhüttl’s appointment in December, Bednarek had started only one league game all season, in which he was substituted at half time.
“It’s been a tough year, but it’s improved me,” he remains philosophical, before revealing he was previously considering his future.
“You have hopes. I had the feeling I had done a good job and I expected to keep going, to improve as a player and give the best for the team, but it didn’t happen.
“I was out of the team and out of the squad. For eight games in a row I didn’t have any minutes, so I was thinking about other options – to go on loan to another club where I would get some minutes.
“But one day, a new manager came in and he decided to give me a chance straightaway. I think you need a little bit of luck, but I had to be ready for that moment.
“You never know what can happen with a new coach, but I was lucky that he came in, gave me the chance and trusted in me.
“He believed in me. That was a really surprising moment for me, because you do not expect to start playing as soon as the new coach comes in, but I knew he would have a fresh eye on the team.
“I had to be ready, be sharp and show my quality, and that’s what happened. I started to play and I think he liked me because I’m still in the first eleven.
“The thing now is to keep going and stay sharp to give him back what he gave to me.”
The transformation has been extreme. Bednarek has played every minute of Hasenhüttl’s eight league games, while his omission from both cup ties against Derby County if anything further underpins his importance in the eyes of his new boss.
From fifth choice behind Jannik Vestergaard, Wesley Hoedt, Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida, to being wrapped up in cotton wool in a matter of weeks.
The sea change conjures an image of Hasenhüttl sitting him down in his office, reassuring him of his place in his plans and waxing lyrical about Bednarek’s talents as a defender to rebuild his confidence. Not so.
“Sometimes you don’t have to talk to feel something, or see something,” the 22-year-old explains. Not all players need reassurance.
“I felt he believed in me and he could see me in the first eleven, so I had to do my best to give it back on the pitch.
“That’s how it is. If someone trusts in you and gives you a chance, you have to give it back.”
Arm around the shoulder or not, it’s clear Bednarek is a fully-fledged member of Ralph’s Revolution when asked about what the Austrian has changed at Staplewood.
“I think the mentality of the team,” he identifies. “Of course, there are tactical aspects, but it’s this mindset that we have to look forward and be brave on the pitch.
“I think we have a lot of quality in the team and we have some very good players, but the thing that was missing was that we were not convinced about our quality.
“We were not self-confident and we were a little bit sloppy in some parts of the game.
“He showed us what we needed to do, he showed us we are good players and he let us believe we can be better than we are.
“We’ll keep going. There are still a lot of things to improve and get better. We know we need time, but we’re showing as a team we are on the same page to do that.
“We are all going together, and I think the game against Leicester showed we are a really strong team, and even with one man down we can be a really tough opponent.
“With that atmosphere in the team, we can be really difficult to play against.”
jan bednareki think we have a lot of quality in the team and we have some very good players, but the thing that was missing was that we were not convinced about our quality.
The Leicester game is an obvious talking point. Bednarek made a goal-saving clearance to deny Wes Morgan and preserve Saints’ 1-0 lead, which was later doubled by Shane Long.
Despite playing the entire second half with ten men, Saints held out for a 2-1 victory that propelled the team out of the relegation zone.
Bednarek, who topped the charts for blocks and clearances at the King Power Stadium, was probably the best player on the pitch.
“We stuck together as a team and everyone was supporting each other,” he said of Saints’ resilience on display in the East Midlands, which followed a clean sheet at Chelsea.
“Even if one of us made a mistake, the other one would help him repair it. That was the main thing.
“With that passion – the thing that was missing – we were going to give our lives for the team and for each other.
“We knew it was going to be a really tough 45 minutes, of course, but we were really strong and we did not feel at one moment we could lose it.
“We knew we had to be really compact and all together. They couldn’t create any clear chances because everyone was fighting with passion and we got a positive result.”
You tend to hear the term “passion” used more by supporters than players or managers, but it’s a buzzword for Hasenhüttl that spreads through his squad.
If the passion showcased at Leicester set the tone for Bednarek to hit new heights, he is not about to rest on his laurels – as proved by another commanding performance against Everton at St Mary’s on Saturday.
After all he, more than most, knows how quickly fortunes can change in football.
“You can always improve,” he adds. “It’s not like I play a good game and I’m happy with that.
“No, I’m looking for the mistakes I can make better. I cannot do everything perfect because I’m still young, I’m still a human and I will always make mistakes. But I have to do it in a way that these mistakes won’t be seen.
“Even if my performances are getting better, I know I’m still young and I can still improve in lots of aspects.
“You know when you have the chance, you cannot let it go. I know how it feels not to play, and I don’t want to feel it again.
“The thing is not to have any troubles like this anymore. Now is the time to work hard, to play well and keep my position in the first eleven. I want to play all the games if possible.
“That’s the main thing – not to feel like that anymore.”