Polish football fans know the routine all too well by now. A promising youngster that is honing his skills in the Ekstraklasa is lured to a prominent league and/or team in hopes of being the next Robert Lewandowski. More often than not, the player is then either buried on the bench, loaned out to a lesser league or unceremoniously jettisoned back to Poland with his tail between his legs.
This all too familiar script appeared to be the destiny for defender, Jan Bednarek after making the jump from Poland to the Barclays Premier League.
Not so fast.
Bednarek, a central defender, signed a five-year contract with Premier side, Southampton on Jul. 1, 2017. The six-foot-two Pole had spent his previous four seasons with Lech Poznan, which included a brief loan spell at I Liga side, Gornik Leczna in 2015-16. His game at Poznan showed material progress to the level where his name was routinely selected for Poland’s youth squads.
Suffice it to say, Bednarek was overcome with joy upon joining the Saints:
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) July 1, 2017
Premier Pine Riding
Given the perpetual rumors and inevitable exit of stud Saints defender, Virgil Van Dijk, Bednarek and his camp viewed the Saints as a side that would be able to utilize the 22-year-old’s services. Unfortunately, and much like fellow young Polish defenders who sought greener pastures in England, Krystian Bielik and Jaroslaw Jach, Bednarek saw more bench than he did pitch over the first several months of his tenure at the fledgling side.
Buried behind the likes of established defenders, Wesley Hoedt, Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida, the youngster only managed a meager three overall appearances in FA and Carabao Cup competitions. It was slowly starting to appear that the defender from Slupca may have not been in the good books of then manager, Mauricio Pellegrino, and could be destined for a dreaded loan to a lesser club.
Despite the inauspicious start to his Premiership career, Bednarek remained both patient and positive, “I feel very nice in this team. All of my team mates are very friendly and everyone in the club has been very good to me. I can’t wait for the first game.”, he told SFC Media. He would not have to wait much longer for his moment in the spotlight.
A Birthday to Remember
March 12 was a pivotal day for Bednarek and the Saints alike. It was the day that Pellegrino was sacked as manager in favor of seasoned bench boss, Mark Hughes. The squad was teetering on the brink of relegation and needed a new voice in the locker room to help galvanize the underachieving side. Much to the delight of Bednarek, the newly appointed manager was intrigued by the potential of the young Pole.
In advance of a crucial mid-April encounter with perennial power, Chelsea, Hughes hinted at Bednarek’s first Premier League start in an interview with the Daily Mail:
Bednarek’s a good young player, he came here for a significant amount of money, and he’s played at a good level in Poland, in front of huge crowds. So it’s not as if he hasn’t got experience of operating at high level with pressure to perform. Sometimes when young players come through the ranks they don’t have that. He’s only 22, it’s his birthday today in fact, but if I make the decision that he’s going to be involved, then I’ve got no qualms with that.
Bednarek did, in fact, start the game and achieved the unthinkable by heading home a 60th minute cross from James Ward-Prowse to put his side up 2:0:
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) April 14, 2018
Ever since Bednarek’s memorable first appearance, he has been regularly slotted in as an RCB in Hughes’ 3-4-2-1 formation. Although the club has not yet fully secured themselves from relegation, the Saints have been playing some of their best football in a disappointing season overall with their new manager at the helm. The Polish defender has been a steady contributor to the cause, logging a full 90-minutes in four straight league games and registering a respectable 6.56/10 average rating from WhoScored.com.
Bednarek’s newfound playing time against elite competition could not have come at a better time. With center back depth being a clear area of concern for National team manager, Adam Nawalka, the Saints’ defender may have vaulted himself into the equation for this summer’s 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Kamil Glik and Michal Pazdan are all but locks to make the squad, while Thiago Cionek being all but a certainty as well. This likely leaves one spot available that Bednarek may be in the pole position for. Nawalka is set to call-up a provisional 35 player squad in mid-May in advance of pre-tournament friendlies against Chile and Lithuania.
A squad that Tomasz Wlodarczyk surmises Bednarek is all but a certainty to be included in:
Jan Bednarek znajdzie się w szerokiej kadrze na mundial. Czy pojedzie na MŚ?
15 maja – 35 piłkarzy zgłoszonych do FIFA.
18 maja – 28-osobowa kadra na zgrupowania w Juracie i Arłamowie.https://t.co/amCKM5xKLk
— Tomasz Włodarczyk (@wlodar85) April 30, 2018
With Bednarek’s main competition to secure the fourth CB spot being the unimpressive Marcin Kaminski, his chances are looking very promising to don the red and white this summer. Regardless of what happens, Bednarek is making strides at the right time and it is great to see a young Pole bucking a dubious trend.
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