Jannik Vestergaard has survived relegation scrapes at Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen.
He doesn’t want to go there again with Southampton.
‘You could make the argument that football is a job and we do get paid for it and we do have to attend work. But I think it’s more than a job,’ the Denmark international says. ‘Not many I have played with can just leave it in the dressing room. And then just forget about it and think about it when they get in the next day.
Jannik Vestergaard has no desire to taste Premier League relegation with Southampton
Vestergaard says the players are carrying the emotions of the fans around with them
Vestergaard admitted people at Southampton are motivated by the threat of relegation
‘Either staying in or going down. It affects you. Your life. And hundreds of people who work for the club.
‘There’s a lot of emotions. Other people’s emotions too. You put it in a backpack and you carry it around with you.’
With Southampton third from bottom ahead of Saturday’s game at Leicester, are players carrying those emotions around with them?
‘Everyone I think is,’ he says. ‘I think they would be lying if they said that they didn’t. I have tried it a couple of times now so I kind of know how to deal with it.’
The centre back, 26, moved to Southampton in July, an £18million buy from Borussia Monchengladbach, his third Bundesliga club.
It was at his first, Hoffenheim, where Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino was a team-mate, that he experienced a relegation playoff in 2013. The bottom two in the 18-team German top division go down, but the club in 16th play the third-placed 2 Bundesliga side over two legs.
The winners join the two promoted teams in the top flight, the losers go into the second tier. Hoffenheim won the first leg 3-1, and again in Kaiserslautern, with Vestergaard scoring the second in a 2-1 win.
‘Winning the playoffs, staying in. Scoring the decisive goal. That was just… Things you cannot really describe. I have always said it was very nice, but rather not experience it!’ he says.
Three years later, Vestergaard narrowly dodged the playoffs at Werder, who needed victory against Eintracht Frankfurt on the final day of the season to stay out of 16th place.
They did so through Papy Djilobodji, on loan from Chelsea, who scored in the 88th minute.
‘What Werder Bremen is to the city of Bremen… It is everything,’ Vestergaard explains. ‘So it is also just when I was walking the dog, the importance for the whole area. You can feel it. And I think it’s the same here.’
Southampton’s Vestergaard was an £18m buy from Borussia Monchengladbach last summer
The Denmark international is the tallest player in the Premier League, standing at 1.99m
But there is hope for Southampton in the shape of Ralph Hasenhuttl, the effervescent Austrian who last month steered them to back-to-back wins for the first time since April 2017.
Vestergaard knows him well, facing sides managed by Hasenhuttl six times in the Bundesliga. He didn’t win once.
‘They were just very uncomfortable, very aggressive,’ he says, describing Hasenhuttl’s former teams Ingolstadt and RB Leipzig. ‘Not allowing you to be comfortable on the ball, not giving you any time at all. I never had the feeling that we’d score easily.
‘Just not nice. I didn’t like to play against his teams.’
Now Vestergaard is playing for Hasenhuttl, starting six of his seven games in charge. It did not start well at Cardiff, with his poor backpass gifting Callum Paterson the game’s only goal.
But his manager kept faith in the Premier League’s tallest outfield player.
‘What I was most happy with was the trust he put in me after the Cardiff game. He let me play against Arsenal and it’s those moments where you really have to pay back some of the trust that a manager puts into you. And I think I did,’ he says.
Vestergaard believes Ralph Hassenhuttl can steer Southampton clear of the drop zone
Vestergaard faced Hassenhuttl in Germany: ‘I didn’t like to play against his teams’
Vestergaard underlined his desire to continue repaying Hassenhuttl’s trust in him
Vestergaard is easy to root for and is not the first player to struggle to acclimatise to English football.
He is also not the first member of his family to play here, with his German grandfather Hannes Schroers turning out for West Ham’s youth team in 1955, spending six months studying the language before becoming an English teacher.
‘I think he was a left full-back and when he didn’t know what to do with it, he played it in deep and the striker, after a couple of long balls, would rip his head off, because he didn’t want to run all the time!’
Born in 1992, a famous year for Danish football, Vestergaard grew up supporting Real Madrid and cites Michael Laudrup as his hero.
Capped 17 times by Denmark, Vestergaard was part of Age Hareide’s World Cup squad, who drew with winners France in the group stage and were knocked out by runners-up Croatia in the last-16.
Yet Vestergaard did not feature in Russia. ‘Every kid wants to play in the World Cup and I still want to play in the World Cup,’ he says.
But for now, Vestergaard is hoping he won’t have to use his survival skills again in May.