Jan Paul van Hecke has set his sights on cracking it in the Premier League and showing what he’s learned during his year with Rovers.

The defender will spend pre-season trying to impress Brighton boss Graham Potter and build on his season-long stay with Rovers that saw him named as the club’s player of the year.

It was a first taste of English football for van Hecke who despite signing for Brighton in September 2020, hasn’t played for the club after loan spells at Heerenveen and Rovers after joining from NAC Breda.

However, Brighton have made clear their plans to give the 21-year-old chance to break into the first-team, ruling out the prospect of another loan, at least for now.

And van Hecke is looking forward to that opportunity after a breakthrough year with Rovers.

He said: “I want to show what I have learned and that I want to work hard. I am looking forward to that chance.

“Before the season starts you want to finish the year a better player and I am sure I am one now.

“The Championship 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.”

Before that, van Hecke is looking forward to a break after playing all but 45 minutes of Rovers’ 26 matches before being left out for the final day fixture at Birmingham City when Tony Mowbray opted against involving any of the loan players.

Although Brighton’s season is still going on, with van Hecke unable to feature, and will take a well-earned break before returning for pre-season.

He does so after a testing season in the Championship which lived up to its reputation.

The 21-year-old added: “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.”

Things weren’t plain sailing for van Hecke at Rovers, arriving injured and not involved in October, before a red card in the 7-0 home defeat to Fulham. But since returning from his suspension he was an ever-present in the side, a key figure in the six-game winning run to end 2021, and building a relationship with supporters that saw him named player of the year.

“I have a special bond with Blackburn now, from the first day everyone was really helpful, the manager gave me a lot of confidence. 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,” he added.

“I got the respect from the fans. If you give everything the supporters appreciate you. 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.”

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