Lee Holmes believes Saints will soon become a “force to be reckoned with” in English football.

The winger has backed the club to continue their incredible rise up the divisions and eventually challenge towards the top of the Premier League.

Holmes, who was released this summer, reckons that within five years Saints could be competing for a European spot, and possibly even a Champions League place.

“The club is only going to go onwards and upwards,” said the 25-year-old, who this week agreed a two-year deal with League One side Preston.

“There’s a passion behind the scenes that means they won’t stop until they achieve what they want.

“There is going to be a time where Southampton will be a force to be reckoned with in English football.

“In the next five years, I expect them to be right up there with the best of them.”

So, is European football a possibility in that timeframe?

Holmes certainly thinks so.

“You look at the passion and backing behind the club, and the infrastructure involved, and I can’t see why not,” he said.

“Look at the clubs in the Premier League who are all fighting for European spots. I can’t see why Southampton can’t get right up there.

“I’m not saying it will be next season, but definitely in the next few years.”

And what about the pinnacle of European club competition, the Champions League?

“Long term, I think you could only look to strive for that,” said Holmes.

“The long term goals between everyone in the club are that they are looking for the highest achievement in football.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t a plan in place for that to happen in the next five years, or maybe a little bit longer.”

Holmes points to another club that not too long ago dropped out of the Premier League, only to return and start seriously challenging the established top four or five sides.

“Look at Newcastle,” he said.

“They’re a massive club, but it’s only a few years ago that they were down in the Championship, so I think it’s something that could happen for Southampton.”

To read a full in-depth interview with Lee Holmes on his time at Saints, don’t miss this weekend’s Sports Pink – on sale this morning.