ORIOL Romeu has finally found at Saints what he's "always been fighting for" and is in no hurry to walk the well trodden path out of St Mary's – despite talks of a return to his beloved Barcelona.

The 25-year-old says he "feels respected" at Saints and is just eager to repay the "love" shown to him on the south coast having finally, for the first time in his career, become an integral player.

"It’s something very nice, of course, I had been there for many years and know the level of players," he said, referring to talk of a Nou Camp comeback.

"Being linked with the club is always something nice but, luckily, I’ve been at Chelsea and Barcelona and haven’t played and I don’t want to be there again and I don’t want to have this feeling [of not playing].

"I’m feeling very happy here [at Saints] and I won’t give this away.

"The club has given me a massive welcome since the beginning, signing a new contract in January, and this support and confidence they have given me is something that no one has done before.

"I feel very pleased for that and I wouldn’t say I’ve just stopped here, I’m very pleased with what they’ve done for me and I just want to give this love back."

Romeu previously played for Chelsea and the Spanish giants Barca - as well as Stuttgart and Valencia on loan, but never found himself a key player.

But under Claude Puel at Saints this season, the Catalan, who was bought from Chelsea for a bargain £5m in August 2015, has become a lynchpin at the base of Saints' midfield and has found a sense of belonging.

"I feel respected," he said. "If team-mates have problems sometimes they come and ask me.

"I’m an important part of the dressing room, which in the way you play gives you that respect.

"It’s something very nice and something I’ve always been looking for and now that I have it I’m really enjoying it."

Romeu had to compete with Victor Wanyama to be Saints' first choice defensive midfielder last season but, after the Kenyan's departure to Tottenham last summer, he became the undisputed incumbent of that shielding position.

As a result Romeu has made more appearances this season (37) than any other previously in his career.

"I’m not surprised," he says. "It is something I haven’t done before so maybe a surprise for someone else, but I’ve always been fighting for this and I’ve always been looking for this kind of season.

"It’s been very good, having games is something I needed and wanted and coming here has given me this.

"It’s been fantastic."

So is this the most settled he's felt during his career?

"Probably, yes, I’ve had some good moments but they were not that long or maybe that good," he said. "Now it’s been six or seven months feeling very good physically, mentally, everything.

"That’s made me very happy and I have good feelings that, as a player, I don’t want to lose and want to make it last as long as possible.

"It’s great to have this feeling and hopefully it won’t go away."

While other players have left Saints for pasture new in search of big money and Champions League football, Romeu has a slightly different take on life as a professional footballer.

That is a result of his formative years when, often, he had to feed off scraps of game time at Barca and Stamford Bridge.

"Sometimes it’s hard because you won’t playing for the next two or three months, but you need to look at yourself and just keep going," he said.

"There are moments in a football career, in everyone’s life there are ups and downs, but you always need to learn from those hard moments and keep yourself motivated or looking for some different objectives.

"Perhaps you won’t be playing next week, but you can get just physically ready as you can for the next season or the next chance the coach can give you."

Romeu admits that this season has been a learning curve after becoming an important player for Saints, and revealed that boss Puel has helped him along the way.

"He’s helped me a lot in terms of confidence and giving me this value to the team," he said. "That’s something I’m very pleased with and he’s helped me tactically with points to improve.

"He’s always trying to tell me we need to keep this structure, sometimes in this league and football teams just lose shape and it’s hard to get back.

"In my position it’s very important to be always in the right place and to keep our team organised."