Jan Paul van Hecke has become Blackburn Rovers’ first loan player to win their Player of the Season award.
The centre-back joins a host of big names to have lifted the prize, including Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton during the club’s heyday in the mid-1990s.
“It’s a really big honour, if you win Player of the Season it means people appreciate you and it’s great to have that respect,” van Hecke said.
“It’s a big deal for me. Blackburn are a big club, they’ve won the Premier League and got history. Now I am a little part of that and, as a team, we had a good season overall and at one point we were second.
“If you’d said at the start of the season we’d finish eighth we’d have said ‘no way, it’s not going to happen’. But then we started well and we were fighting to be in the play-offs.”
The 21-year-old enjoyed a brilliant campaign at Ewood Park, building a good relationship with the club.
“I have a special bond with Blackburn now, from the first day everyone was really helpful, the manager gave me a lot of confidence to go and play my game. I got a red card after a couple of games and everyone must have thought ‘who is this guy?’ but I came back into the team and I didn’t miss any minutes.
“I got the respect from the fans. If you give everything the supporters appreciate you."
The centre-back is hoping that he can use his experience with Rovers to push for a place in Albion’s Premier League squad next season.
“Before the season starts you want to finish the year a better player and I am sure I am one now. The Championship, as everyone knows, is physical and intense and you come up against some really good strikers. I have learned a lot from that.
“I am more physical and I know how to use my body better to defend, and on the ball as well I have learned a lot. We played three at the back and I haven’t really played that way before so that was a new experience.”
“I want to be ready for next season, I want to show what I have learned and that I want to work hard. I am looking forward to that chance.”
Before then though, Jan is looking forward to a good rest.
“I have never been more tired than at the end of this season. You don’t get a rest in the Championship. The mental toll as well, if you lose a few games, it really hurts. You don’t have time to think about it because if you played on the Saturday you’ll have a game on the Tuesday so I need a good holiday now.
“People said that the Championship is the hardest league in the world, but I thought ‘let’s see’, but now I know what they were talking about.”