HE is arguably Southampton’s most successful football coach – after guiding four national teams to their highest-ever FIFA ranking.

Gary White, from Nursling, has guided British Virgin Islands, Guam, the Bahamas and now Taiwan to record highs.

He is believed to be the first coach to have achieved the astonishing feat, fuelled by a love of football that began as a youth team player with Millbrook Lions during the 1980s.

As the grandson of Don Morant, one of the founders of the Tyro League founders, 42 year-old White is steeped in Southampton football history.

His parents, Keith and Theresa, still live in the Nursling home he grew up in while attending Oakwood primary school and Oaklands secondary during the 1980s, when he was a Saints youth team player at The Dell.

After a brief non-league career, including two years at Bognor Regis under the legendary Jack Pearce, whose “passion for the game” was a big influence, the winger moved to Australia to play for Freemantle for two seasons.

“My football career didn’t pan out as I hoped or thought it would so I decided to focus on coaching - if I couldn’t be one of the world’s best players I wanted to try and become one of the world’s best coaches,” he explains.

White had his first taste of coaching as a 16 year-old on work experience at the Hampshire FA and also organised training camps for Major League Soccer before starting his own coaching school in Australia.

He became the youngest coach of a national team before guiding the British Virgin Islands up 28 places into FIFA’s top 160.

“I was only 24, the interview panel seemed surprised at how young I was!” he recalls. “I was younger than a lot of the players but soon gained their respect. Andre Villas-Boas took over from me but my results were far stronger.”

White began a six-year spell in charge of the Bahamas in 2001, guiding them up 55 places into the top 140.

After a brief stint with the Seattle Sounders in 2012, he oversaw Guam’s 50-place rise into the top 150.

It was while in charge of Guam that he was head hunted by Shanghai Shenxin.

In June 2016 he found himself managing in the Chinese Premier League alongside the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, Clarence Seedorf and Ciro Ferrara.

“I took over the team half way through the season when it was in the relegation zone,” he said. “We finished in the top ten without spending any money.

“There was a lot of pressure to stay up from the owner, who has a reputation for firing managers willy-nilly.

“So every match counted. When I took over we had nine points and 11 goals, the club was in freefall. By the end of the season we had 40 points and 54 goals. But we had a big disagreement about which players to bring in and which to keep.

“We had a really good platform to win something but he was content to just develop players and sell them on so I saw my contract out and moved on after six months. They’ve struggled since.”

White began coaching Taiwan last September, when they were 158th in the FIFA rankings. He has already guided them into the top 130.

“We can break into the top 100 in the next two or three years,” he said. “Taiwan hasn’t had much of a football culture in the past but that’s changing.

“Its GDP is in the world’s top ten and more financial support is going towards football. There’s a six-year plan in place to build a new national stadium and introduce a professional league in the next five years to compete with China’s.”

Gary credits his wife, fashion designer Yu Rui, for much of his success. They and their two year-old son Flash currently live in Taiwan but still have a home in Shanghai.

“Marrying a Chinese woman helped me to assimilate into Chinese culture,” acknowledged White, who met Yu at an engagement party in Tokyo.

“She’s advised me on how to handle situations that, without her, could have gone very wrong. Her influence has helped build better relationships with my players.”

White has ambitions to return to England to manage.

He was shortlisted for the England U21 job before Gareth Southgate’s appointment last August.

“I’ve since been in regular contact with Dan Ashworth, the technical director at the FA,” he said.

“It’s very difficult for coaches like myself to get opportunities like that so that was a great experience.

“Too many clubs seem to look for the biggest names rather than the best candidate, which is a big frustration, but I’ve been really appreciative of the FA’s support and have had some good meetings with Dan at St George’s Park."

White's ambition knows no bonds.

“Ultimately my goal has to be to coach England," he continued. "I’ve coached four national teams and would love the chance to coach my own.

“I’ve experienced many different cultures, I have three Pro Licences from different parts of the world, including the UEFA Pro license from The FA.

“But next I want to get some European experience on my CV.”