Mauricio Pochettino believes Gareth Bale is an “amazing player” and one which would not have left Southampton for tomorrow's opponents Tottenham under the current regime.
The Wales international's star may have grown at White Hart Lane but it was on the south coast that he honed his talent.
Having graduated from Saints' academy, Bale progressed to the first-team aged 16 and impressed enough in the second tier to earn a move to Tottenham at the end of his maiden season.
The 23-year-old has become one of the world's best since moving to north London in 2007 and this week picked up a clean sweep of gongs for the season's standout player.
Saints face the unenviable task of attempting to shackle Bale tomorrow and Pochettino, a former team-mate of Diego Maradona and Gabriel Batistuta, has been impressed by his form.
"He is a very decisive player - an amazing player because of his speed, strength and goalscoring abilities," the Southampton manager said.
"He has shown that throughout the season this year so I rate him very highly.
"Our collective game needs to be very strong tomorrow. We can't just focus on Gareth Bale - there are other players in that team that can raise their game.
"In a collective sense, we need to be very focused and mentally ready as we need to be in every single game that we play in the Premier League.
"We always need to be mentally focused as you never know."
Bale is one of a number of high-profile players to have left Saints in recent years after coming through the club's youth system.
Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are other notable departures but Pochettino believes the days of selling young talent are over.
"With this current club's ambition, dedication and vision for the future, it would be very hard for Gareth Bale to leave this club," said the Argentinian, who last week spoke of his Champions League ambitions.
"Right now, our mentality is to keep our best players and we spoke that with Nicola [Cortese, executive chairman] from the first day.
"We want to keep our greatest talents but at the same time now we need more time in order to develop our greatest talents as it happened with Bale, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott.
"Now we need to be able to keep our greatest players, our greatest talents like Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse, in order for them to develop their football and become top footballers.
"It is a shame we don't have these three players available for Southampton now but that is our project for the future."
The aforementioned Shaw will be fit to face Tottenham tomorrow after overcoming a knee complaint - a welcome boost given his replacement at left-back, Danny Fox, starts a three-match ban after last weekend's red card.
Gaston Ramirez was another sent off in a heavy 3-0 defeat to West Brom, which will have no doubt impacted Southampton's fair play ranking.
Saints are in the running for a potential Europa League place via UEFA's Fair Play League but, like Liverpool, have confirmed they would not accept a place in the competition.
"We would not accept it either if we were awarded that possibility," Pochettino, speaking through his interpreter, said.
"We have spoken with the chairman and decided not to take that offer because I think in football what you are awarded in football needs to be earned on the pitch.
"We will only accept possibilities when we've earned them on the pitch and not just by fair play, but actually earning it with points and results."
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