Southampton left-back Luke Shaw could play for any team in the world, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Speculation over Shaw’s future intensified on Thursday when media reports linked the 18-year-old with a potential switch to Real Madrid.
Chelsea and Manchester United are also thought to be admirers of the England international, who could significantly boost his value if he features at this year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
And Pochettino did not play down Shaw’s talent or ability when quizzed about the Real reports in his news conference ahead of Saturday’s home match against Newcastle United.
He said: “He can play at Real Madrid or in the world starting 11. He has the quality to do so.”
Shaw has belied his age to start in 28 of Southampton’s 31 Premier League matches this season.
Pochettino’s contract situation is also noteworthy, with the Argentinian said to be unhappy with Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese’s departure in January.
His future beyond this season is not known but he refused to give away any details.
“I’ll repeat what I said exactly last week,” he said. “Everything is calm and we are working to finish the season off as best as possible.”
Southampton host Newcastle knowing they can move ahead of their opponents in the table with victory.
Pochettino is expecting a response from Newcastle though, with Alan Pardew’s side beaten 3-0 at home by Everton on Tuesday.
“We’re expecting quite a physical side, a very strong side, especially after being defeated at their home ground against Everton,” he added.
“They will be wanting to put it right. We are expecting a very physical opponent.”
Pochettino also revealed that Japan defender Maya Yoshida was sidelined for the next month, but still believes he will be fit for the World Cup.
“Maya has a problem with his knee ligaments, so we expect he’ll be out for six weeks,” he continued.
Southampton are also monitoring the fitness of defender Nathaniel Clyne, midfielder Steven Davis and forward Jay Rodriguez, who are battling knocks ahead of Saturday’s fixture.