We spoke with Michał Helik as he and his Poland teammates continue their preparations ahead of Euro 2020.
Our centre-back is featuring at a major international tournament for the first time and is embracing the experience rather than letting any potential nerves creep in.
“I think more excited because it’s something special to be part of the national team, for me, to play with top players,” he began. “I’m really looking forward to the games and I hope that we achieve something good with Poland.”
When Helik arrived at Oakwell on his birthday back in September, he was relatively unknown and hadn’t even represented Poland at youth level.
However, he has enjoyed a wonderful first campaign in England where he was voted as Player of the Season by Reds supporters and has since been capped three times by his nation.
“I was not expecting this, but I was dreaming about it,” reflected the 25-year-old. “It’s a beautiful season for me – I learnt a lot and improved a lot at Barnsley with all the lessons I got from the Championship.
“Now, I think I’m a much better player than when I joined Barnsley. It’s a big thing that I’m in the national team but I’m still hungry, I want to be a better player and represent the Polish squad well.”
Drawn in Group E, Poland will face Slovakia, three-times winners Spain and Sweden to play for a place in the knockout phase.
They have only made it past the group stage once – back in 2016, where they lost to eventual winners Portugal on penalties in the quarter-finals.
“We are confident about our quality in the team but, like at Barnsley, we will take the games one by one,” continued Helik. “Now we are focused on Slovakia and we will try and take three points from them.
“The preparations are good. We played two friendly games against Russia and Iceland, so they were good games and we are well prepared and I think we will be ready for the game.”
The defender has also been pitting his wits against one of the deadliest strikers in world football at the moment: Robert Lewandowski.
Training with players of that calibre can only be beneficial for Helik’s development and he insists he is relishing every opportunity to examine his abilities.
“Robert is a great player and a great person, also,” he praised. “I think I’ve improved playing against him – almost every training session I have duels with him.
“It’s a big experience for me and I hope I can learn a lot and improve my skills to help the team to win.”