KEVIN Danso was representing a team referred to as ‘Southampton’ when his MK Dons coach realised the scale of his potential.

Dan Micciche, who now works for Arsenal’s academy as under-16s and lead development coach, first worked with Saints’ deadline-day signing when he was an under-9 playing in the same academy that produced Dele Alli.

He recalls: “We’d never been to an overseas tournament because we didn’t have the brand name, we were just a League One club with a small academy. But we went to one in Greece because Southampton pulled out – and they called us Southampton the whole time!

“Kevin scored twice when we beat Panathinaikos 3-0 in the semi-final. It was boiling hot, it was the sixth game we’d played in two or three days. He’d played all of them and was playing a year up.

“Elite performers deliver in pressure moments and that was one.”

Two others were his international and Bundesliga debuts, both as an 18 year-old. Micciche recalls one of Danso’s best goals for the MK Dons academy. “At Colchester’s stadium, he beat three or four players on the edge of the box, rolled the ball and then chipped it in the top corner. It was another example of what he’s capable of.

“So was scoring the equaliser for Augsburg in a draw against [Borussia] Dortmund and the fact he kept getting picked in a top league at centre-half.

“A lot of managers don’t trust young centre-halves so that speaks volumes. I went out there to watch him play two seasons ago against Wolfsburg and even as an 18 year-old he was marking Mario Gomez.

“He’s played against Bayern Munich’s first team three or four times in front of big crowds. He’s marked the likes of [Robert] Lewandowski and [Edinson] Cavani when he played Uruguay.

“He played against Brazil’s seniors last summer, when they had big-hitters including Neymar playing.”

Danso has already won six caps for Austria, the country of his birth (contrary to his Wikipedia page, Danso was never eligible to play for England), but his formative football education began at MK Dons a few years after his family moved to the area.

In 2014, they moved to Germany. After two seasons in Augsburg’s first team, Micchiche believes Danso has moved to the right club at the right time. “He was always destined to come back to England and it was always going to be in the Premier League, to a club that plays a good style of football, breeds young players and with a manager who’s going to improve him and progress his game.

“He had interest last year from a few Premier League clubs - West Ham, Newcastle and Fulham – but that would have been too early.

“He’s been in Germany for five years now and had two years’ experience in the Bundesliga so this is a really good fit.

“One of my close friends is Southampton’s first-team analyst and I have a lot of friends in their academy.

“Southampton is such a good club and the indications are that it will work out well.”

As an international centre-half, Danso is just what Saints need. But he has the potential to play in other positions.

“He’s a very multi-functional player with really good composure,” continues Micciche.

“He’s played a lot at centre-back in Germany whereas I always saw him as a box-to-box midfielder, which he may become in future.

“Southampton have got a player who can play in three or four positions. Whether he can play in three or four positions in the Premier League is another matter.

“He’ll never be a number ten but wouldn’t be embarrassed around the box. He’s got a good set of lungs, always has done. He can get around the pitch, he’s got good speed, a good spring, a good touch, can score and is such an honest player. He can cover the ground very quickly and defend in transition as well.

“The biggest thing with him is he wants to improve. Even now, he doesn’t think he’s made it at all.

“He’s very, very self-critical. He can have a good game and he’ll think he’s had a bad game. He’ll always look for that extra percentage.

“Credit to him, he’s never got ahead of himself. Even now he won’t see it as ‘I’ve made it’. He’ll see this as the next part of his journey and that the hard work starts from here.”

Such is Danso’s quality that Micciche believes he will prove one of the best young players in the Premier League.

“Having worked with Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden with England, I would definitely put Kevin in that category of player,” continues the former England U16 coach, who likens the quality of the 20 year-old’s versatility to that of Frank Rijkaard and Marcel Desailly.

“In the modern game he’s not a number four, a six or an eight so you have to look back further for someone equally comfortable at the back as in midfield.

“Someone like Desailly or a Rijkaard. If he can achieve what they did he’ll have done well!”

Danso, who turns 21 next month, would often play three years above his age group alongside the likes of Dele Alli, who he will come up against at Tottenham’s new stadium next month, for the first time since their academy training sessions.

Other MK Dons alumni include Liverpool’s Shay Ojo, currently on loan at Glasgow Rangers following a £2m move to Anfield as a 15 year-old in 2011, Brendan Galloway, who played 17 games for Everton before moving to Luton Town last month and Sheffield United full-back George Baldock.

“Dele’s group was a good one for Kevin to look up to,” continues Micciche.

“He would get integrated into that group so had good peers. It was a good community of local kids with a lot of potential. They would all get an opportunity to play up two or three years, which accelerated their learning.

“Kevin was and still is very close to his teammates. They were a very athletic group so we used to put them on small pitches to help improve their touch and awareness because they got away with quite a lot when they were nine and ten.

“Originally they didn’t like it because they weren’t experiencing success. But with perseverance they started to buy into it and saw the benefits.

“Kevin has always relished a challenge, which is a trait of an elite performer.

“He stepped out of his comfort zone when he went to Germany and now has a bank of experience that will stand him in good stead.

“I saw his debut for Austria U15s, when he played up front, so he’s one of those who’s been a good footballer the whole way through.

“There are some you can label. Dele was always going to be in the middle of the pitch amongst the action. He wants to be the centre of attention, but Kevin is a team player who hasn’t locked down a position, even now.

“What will benefit Southampton is that he can play in a back three, a back four and in midfield. Hopefully the guidance of such a good manager will move his game on even more.”

Dele Alli’s achievements have been a source of motivation to Danso.

“When you see one of your peers do something you want to do, all of a sudden it becomes achievable,” explains Micciche, who returned to MK Dons for a brief spell as their first-team manager last year.

“Being at an academy with very little in terms of facilities compared to most clubs in the country kept Kevin’s feet on the floor. He wasn’t given loads of kit, he didn’t travel in first class. That was good for him.

“But when Dele broke into the MK Dons first team as a 16 year-old and Shay Ojo got a £2m move to Liverpool at 15 his mentality shifted from ‘I’m at a little club with very limited resources’ to ‘something’s happening here, people are getting international recognition.

“Then Kevin started to get his, after being called up to the Austria U15 squad a year early.”

Danso’s strength and stamina stood out from a young age.

“He’s always had that robustness,” continued Micciche.

“He’s a bit unusual in that the modern-day culture of player development is becoming more about managing their load and looking at every fine detail.

“But while Kevin’s programme was detailed and well thought out he played an awful lot of games - 70-odd in one season.

“He once played two full games in a day; in the morning for the year above and in the afternoon for his own age group.

“That was based on knowing him and what he was capable of and asking him how he felt. If he broke down he knew I might not ask him next time.

“That was a good lesson for me. Not all young players can cope with that but it’s not a one-size-fits-all. If they can, let them crack on.”

The holistic approach to player development favoured in Germany was of great benefit to Danso, who is the youngest of three brothers, when he joined Augsburg as a 15 year-old.

“I’d left for the FA by then but the main reason the family went was for the education,” explains Micciche. “It was a bold move but Kevin’s come out of it with five A-levels because of the German education system, where you stay in school till you’re 18, all paid for by Augsburg.

“We still have a bit of a one-size-fits-all approach, where at 16 players can do an NVQ. But he’s well educated.

“He’s not just a footballer, off the field there’s a lot more to him. He speaks other languages; he’s fluent in German, he speaks Austrian and his English isn’t bad either. Our academy manager at Arsenal, Per Mertesacker, is always drumming into the players that better people make better players and Kevin’s a good example of that; he’s a really good, grounded person.

“I’m very proud of him. He’s a fantastic human being; extremely polite, very humble. He’s been brought up extremely well and is such an impressive young man with good values.

“A lot of credit for that goes to his older brother Manny, who’s mentored him very well.”