Jan Bednarek has used marginal gains to produce big improvements.
Southampton sit proudly in fifth place going into this weekend having been transformed in the past 12 months by manager Ralph Hasenhuttl.
Saints defender Bednarek has been a key figure in their remarkable rise from fighting against relegation to making a serious push for a European place.
Bednarek’s own attention to detail, using a psychologist, taking up boxing lessons and changing his diet are the sort of things that have improved his game.
“The difference that even one per cent can give you is actually massive,” said the 24-year-old. “Diet, work with the physio and small things that can help you perform better to give you an advantage against an opponent.
“The competition in modern football is really, really high and I would never forgive myself if I didn’t work hard to take my chance. I would say I’m talented but I also want to work hard, give my best and I want to give the best version of myself and that’s what I have tried to do.
“The small differences can help a lot. I have tried a gluten free diet and that really helps me. I did boxing lessons a few times with my friends. It can help you in some aspects, with quick feet and to move your body. You become more elastic.
“There is a physical side, a mental side and that mental side is quite important because there’s lots of pressure, not much time to recover and, with my psychologist, we’ve found a way to recover after games and that’s really helped me.
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“Some situations are really hard in your life. You either go down or you go up. You don’t stay the same. That’s the challenge. We did that as a team.
“We found it difficult after Leicester (lost 9-0 in Oct 2019), we were in a bad mood and yet we knew only hard work would get us back. We couldn’t be lower. But we managed to stand up, to grow as a team and we are in a different place at the moment.”
Bednarek arrived at St Mary’s from Polish side Lech Poznan just over three years ago, took time to get into the team and admits he was blown away at first by the level and demands of the Premier League. But is dedicated, focused and talks with real passion for the game.
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“I had to work hard to improve and become a better footballer,” he said. “For me, the difference in the Premier League is massive. When I was in Poland, I used to watch and think: ‘It’s not that big.’ But then you come here, play and it’s like two different disciplines of sport.
“It was difficult, the difference was massive but the challenge was great for me. I knew that if I worked hard then I would get the rewards. The challenges in my life keep me strong and motivated. I want to get as good as I can.”
Bednarek has gone from strength to strength at the club, recently got engaged to his girlfriend Julia and Southampton are looking up rather than down. Europe is a possibility and facing big clubs like Manchester United is now a challenge they relish.
He added: “It will be really hard, it will be a very interesting game to watch. We really like the tough challenges, the tough opponents because that’s where you can show yourself, show where you are at the moment.
“I hope we are going to perform really, really good every single game. That’s really important for us. Not thinking about what we get at the end of the season. If we perform really well. If we perform at our best, it can bring us really high in the league.”
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