SAINTS defender Armel Bella-Kotchap is among a crop of talented young players Francis Benali hopes can make the club “a force in the Premier League”.
The centre-back has been called up to the senior Germany international side for the first time by manager Hansi Flick at just 20-years-old.
Such is the impact he has made since arriving at St Mary’s from Bundesliga outfit VFL Bochum this summer, after just six Premier League appearances.
Flick revealed former Saints assistant coach Danny Rohl – who now works as his country’s number two – was on site to watch Bella-Kotchap, where he likely chatted with former colleague Ralph Hasenhuttl.
And Benali, who played for Saints between 1988 and 2004, claims he is excited by the current group of players that could continue their rapid upward trajectory to the club’s benefit.
“Armel Bella-Kotchap is one of a number of signings that the club have made during the summer that is clearly identifying a profile of a player, young, top exciting talent to come in,” the legend told Southampton International Boat Show.
“And almost as he has done, hit the ground running a little bit like Tino Livramento did last season, when he came in.
“There's an exciting crop of young players at the club, along with the players that are already here and what's coming through in the academy, to make us a bit of a force in the Premier League, I hope.
“But he's been outstanding, he's just shown, like others, a calmness, almost like confidence way beyond their years, and the performances that he has put in, in the handful of games I've seen him so far, has just been first class.”
Benali continued: “In the Manchester United game, despite them losing, he was one of the standout performers, and in the win against Chelsea, he was superb.”
Saints still look to post a first top-half finish in the Premier League since Hasenhuttl’s arrival as boss in December 2018, after last season’s second-half collapse.
After seven matches this campaign, they have seven points. Despite defeats at Wolves and Aston Villa in their last two and not yet keeping a clean sheet, the defence has been considerably stronger at limiting the opposition’s chances.
“It's still early days for him, settling into a new club and a new environment, a new culture, and that can often be a hard thing for any player, let alone a man of his young years,” Benali added.
“I'm really excited to see his journey with the football club and where he can hopefully take our club in the future.”
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