PROFESSIONAL footballers often find themselves asked what they get up to in their spare time?

Play golf? Watch TV? Drive a fancy car around town? Go shopping? Venture out for a meal? Play the latest edition of FIFA?

Saints defender Jan Bednarek has answered that question - and it’s none of the above.

The Polish international gleefully revealed exactly what his time is filled with when he gets back home from training or a matchday.


No, not the sweets.

Candy is Bednarek’s French Bulldog, which he looks after with his girlfriend Julia Nowak.

“I love to play with my dog,” said the 22-year-old with the widest grin etched across his face.

“He needs a lot of attention because he is still young.

“He is good because he gives my mind a rest and to not think about football which is really important.

“He loves to play football. He has a little ball and just runs everywhere with it inside the house - but he isn’t a better defender than me yet.

“It’s good to come back to a house which isn’t empty because he fills it with energy which is nice.”

One thing that immediately strikes you about Bednarek is that he doesn’t fit the classic stereotypical footballer image.

His older brother, Filip, also plays football professionally in the Dutch Eredivisie for SC Heerenveen.

Unlike his Saints sibling, the 26-year-old is a goalkeeper who started his career at FC Twente.

Given that people can look to their close relatives as role models, it’s no surprise that Bednarek followed the example of his brother and started his career in between the sticks.

“When I was 11 or 12 I used to be a goalkeeper, but I didn’t really like it because it’s boring,” recalled the Saints defender.

“I wanted to go forward with the ball more often and that was it. I asked the coach to go in front.

“From the beginning I started as a striker, but I dropped back down because I was tall and normally that means you are a defender.

“I was a defender and it must have worked because I am still a defender.”

Although their careers are on separate pathways, Bednarek revealed the advantage of having someone in the family who shares the same occupation as him.

He added: “It’s nice because you can have a conversation and talk about things.

“You can analyse things from the game which I think is nice.

“We support and help each other when it’s needed.

“To have a brother who plays professional football is a nice feeling.”

At only 22, the Saints defender continues to show what an exciting prospect he is.

Having come into the team towards the end of last season to help keep the south coast side in the Premier League, Mark Hughes decided against playing him at the beginning of this campaign.

But when Ralph Hasenhuttl replaced the sacked Hughes in December, the Polish international’s fortunes turned around.

He has now become a regular fixture on the Austrian’s team sheet and has played a key part in helping Saints stay above the relegation zone.

“My ambition is to be the best,” added the Saints defender.

“I want to be a player who can do a lot for team and gives 100 per cent in every game.

“That’s what I’m trying to do.

“I don’t look too far ahead. I just focus on the next game and the next training session. The main thing is to just work hard and I’ll find out the what the rest will be.

“I’m happy I am playing and that’s the most important thing.

“But the other thing is to do as much as I can for the team to have a big influence within the team and that’s what I’m trying to do.

“I need to do the right things to win the duels I have and that is what the coach is expecting from me.

“He wants me to be aggressive and committed to the game. I don’t only think about myself, I am a group player who wants to do the best for the team.”

With Hasenhuttl immediately putting his faith in the 22-year-old, the defender feels like he wants to repay the Saints boss with solid displays on the pitch.

He added: “If you get given something then you have to give back. That’s the main thing.

“If he is showing me that he trusts and believes in me, then I have to give back. I can help him by being a team player and adding some quality to the team.”

With his ambition to be the best, Bednarek revealed the defenders he admires most.

“There are a lot of footballers I can watch,” he admitted.

“Giorgio Chiellini from Juventus, Kamil Glik, the Polish defender, is a very good one.

“Sergio Ramos is the top defender in the offensive box. Sometimes he makes stupid mistakes but, with his personality, he gives a lot for Real Madrid.

“I think there is quite a lot of defenders who I admire and who I can watch.”

Bednarek is currently away with Poland on international duty for their Euro 2020 qualifiers.

He’s played at every level from the Under-16s to the senior side, where he has eight caps to his name.

And the defender, who made his national debut back in 2017 in a 3-0 win over Kazakhstan, revealed how grateful he is to pull on the Poland jersey.

“It gives me a lot of pride to play in games for the national team and to represent your country,” added Bednarek.

“I am happy that I have another chance to do it.

“We have tough games, but we are a strong team and we are confident in our quality.”

Whilst he is away with Poland, Bednarek will have to deal with Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski in training.

Lewandowski has netted 30 times in 40 appearances this season, as he continues to remain in the elite section of the world’s best players.

But Bednarek claimed that the striker doesn’t give him too many nightmares.

Instead, the Saints defender turns to him for advice on how to become a better player.

Bednarek said: “He is the best striker in the world.

“You can just talk to him and he will help you to become a better player. He’s a great team player who can help a lot.

“He is a top player but if you do your job, are aggressive and mark him close then he can’t do anything.

“But if you sleep for one second then he will use that and will put the ball away.

“You have to be alert all the time when you defend against him.”