James Ward-Prowse has joked that Luke Shaw’s “dopey” nature has helped him become a world class talent.

The two Saints youngsters are close friends having risen through the ranks at the academy together since the age of nine to make first team breakthroughs.

Ward-Prowse, pictured, insists footballing fame has not changed his mate and the dopey tendencies Shaw’s teammates rib him over might actually have aided his development.

“He’s still the same,” smiled Ward-Prowse when talking about Shaw.

“We knew him growing up as the dopey slow one of the group and then to see him going out and playing for England is quite strange.

“He’s a good lad and you hear about some players changing and becoming a different player but he’s become a better person for it I think. He’s a really good mate of mine.

“He was always talked about as being the next big thing and he’s lived up to that.

“For us as lads he was always the dopey one of the group so we never really thought he would be able to take to that level but he’s proved with his quality on the pitch he’s been a tremendous player for us this season.”

Ward-Prowse believes that Shaw’s character has helped him focus on his football and explained the dopey tag by joking: “We would do education work at the training ground and he’d always be last doing it and somebody would ask him a question and he’d get it wrong. That’s just him. It’s just his character.”

He added: “He got a promotion to the first team a couple of years ago and had injury concerns and his fitness wasn’t great but he got his head down and worked really hard at that. Credit to him because physically he’s one of the best in our team now.

“He’s someone I aspire to in that area of the game.

“There is no reason why any player, especially a young English player, who has come through would not want to be here.

“He’s playing regularly for Southampton who are pushing for European places and he’s getting that international recognition so there’s no reason why he’d want to change.

“The club, the players, the fans, the staff hope he stays.”

Ward-Prowse this afternoon makes an emotional return to Manchester City.

The midfielder was handed a shock top flight debut at the Etihad Stadium in the opening game of Saints’ return to the Premier League last season, which they narrowly lost 3-2.

“Corky (Jack Cork) was injured so I was playing most of the pre-season friendlies, so I had an inkling I would be starting,” remembered Ward-Prowse.

“To see it come up in the presentation before the game obviously made me so nervous.

“All that kept running through my head was that it was on TV, my Premier League debut against the champions and all the names I would be up against.

“But I think I settled in really quickly. “The warm-up was the worst because the crowd was building and building.

“All our fans were excited because it was our first game back in the Premier League. It was pretty nerve-wracking.”

He added: “I actually came off before we went 2-1 up, but I played a part in the first goal, which was good. I will always remember that, my little touch to Rickie.

“It was a good feeling and obviously the celebrations were special. The pictures of us all celebrating were unbelievable.”