- Poland international Jan Bednarek looks ahead to U-20 World Cup
- Southampton defender is Polish top flight's most expensive export
- Buy your tickets for Poland 2019 here
With fewer than 50 days until the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland gets underway, Southampton and national team defender Jan Bednarek has his fingers firmly crossed for his younger compatriots. After all, he knows exactly how they will be feeling, having also played in a major tournament on home soil back in 2017: the UEFA U-21 European Championship.
“These tournaments are always a fantastic experience for the players. It’s something completely new and different to anything they’ll have experienced before," Bednarek said during a chat with FIFA.com. "It’s a really crucial time in a player’s development. Moreover, it’s a great opportunity to put yourself in the shop window as there’ll be lots of scouts following the competition. You don’t just have the chance to win something prestigious with your team at this tournament, you could also end up with a mega contract."
Although the EURO U-21 competition was a disappointment for Poland, as the team failed to get out of the group, Bednarek does not consider it a complete waste of time. “It was a valuable experience that made me a better player," the Polish top-flight's most expensive export - at around €6.5 million - reflected. "It’s such a unique situation: you’re playing at home, the stadiums are packed, you’ve got your family and friends there. It was unforgettable.
"These youth tournaments also have another plus, especially when you play at home, which is that you find yourself under pressure, so you learn about it and you deal with it. The pressure only increases when you step up to senior level. Therefore, encountering pressure at youth level is really good,” said the centre-back who was on the scoresheet at 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, handing Poland a win over Japan.
Having already experienced international football at both underage and senior level, Bednarek is ideally placed to compare the emotions they both evoke. “It’s not the same. It’s a lot easier to play for the youth teams. And the senior team? There are only 25 players; in terms of Poland, that’s 25 people out of almost 40 million. That’s when you feel part of the footballing elite, as you’re realising a childhood dream. It really is a unique experience.”
The national team has in fact helped the 22-year-old over the last few months. Despite sitting on the bench for long periods at Southampton as he patiently waits for his chance, head coach Jerzy Brzeczek has continued to include him in the senior team.
“As it’s turned out, my patience has paid off. If young players were to find themselves in a similar situation, then my advice to them would be: if they feel that something good is on the verge of happening, then keep calm and be patient. Put the hours in on the training pitch and in the gym, and help this chance materialise. Believe in yourself and be patient.”
And now Bednarek is reaping the rewards, having played every minute in the English Premier League since mid-December, and he credits the national team for getting him there. “Coach Brzeczek backed me, even though I wasn’t playing for my club. That really helped me. You could say that Jerzy Brzeczek kept me going. Thanks to the national team, I was able to feel that adrenaline you get when you play, something I’d not been experiencing at club level. I’m really grateful to the coach and desperate to repay the faith he has shown in me out on the pitch.”
And with the U-20 World Cup set to see fans from all across the world flock to Poland, Bednarek is convinced those visiting will be in for a memorable trip. “We’re a friendly nation and have beautiful scenery and incredible cities," he said, with six Host Cities dotted across the country. "The atmosphere really is great here.
"I know that people who’ve spent time in Poland have been pleasantly surprised and felt very comfortable here. So, there’s not much more I can say on this. I just have one very simple point to make: if you come over here, you won’t be disappointed. It’s worth making the trip to Poland.”