IT WAS a conversation James Ward-Prowse had been dreaming of but not one he was expecting any time soon.

For a player that’s been at Saints since the age of eight, his ambition to one day lead the St Mary’s side was ever-present.

But being given the armband ahead of a behind-closed-doors friendly against Bristol City probably isn’t how he imagined it.

Ralph Hasenhuttl pulled the midfielder to one side and informed him of his decision to strip the captaincy off wantaway Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

As someone that’s captained Saints through various age groups, as well as England at youth level, it’s a discussion he’ll never forget but also one he doesn’t want to dwell on.

Reflecting on the moment his boyhood dream came true, Ward-Prowse told the Daily Echo: “It was before the Bristol City match, the game before the restart.

“He [Hasenhuttl] pulled me to the side and told me he wanted me to be his captain.

“I set out with a goal when I was eight to play for the first team and as I grew up through the ranks, captaincy started to creep into my mind.

“It’s a really strange feeling because you work so hard to get to that moment and then it’s finally given to you.

“But, for me, it’s not something I’ll dwell on.

Daily Echo: Ralph Hasenhuttl and James Ward-Prowse enjoy a good relationshipRalph Hasenhuttl and James Ward-Prowse enjoy a good relationship

“Now it’s about working out what I can do to be the best captain for the club and how I can help people and also still improve myself as a player and a person for the good of the team.

“A lot of thoughts go through your head but once you’ve had the time to assess it, it’s a really exciting prospect for me moving forward.”

When you’ve been dreaming of captaining a club since childhood you’d expect to have rehearsed exactly how you’d act as the skipper.

But Hasenhuttl told Ward-Prowse he doesn’t want him to change one iota.

The Austrian believes the role of a captain is a lot more important to fans in England than it is elsewhere across the continent.

Saints’ midfielder has become one of the club’s most important players since Hasenhuttl took charge of the club in December 2018.

He’s placed in the heartbeat of the team and pleases the manager with his endless running, often topping the chart for most distance covered during a match.

“I think everybody leads in different ways,” reflected Ward-Prowse when asked how he plans on captaining the club.

“I like to be vocal, but I wouldn’t say I’m the most vocal person. I just want to be myself because that’s stood me in great stead.

“I’ve always worked really hard on my game and I will always give 100 per cent every time I go out and train or play a match on a Saturday.

“I’m not going to change anything about me; I’ll still be the same player and person I am.”

Daily Echo: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was stripped of the captaincyPierre-Emile Hojbjerg was stripped of the captaincy

Asked which captains he’s admired both past and present, it didn’t take Ward-Prowse to single out a former Premier League and England star.

“I love Steven Gerrard, he’s the ideal one for me,” added the 25-year-old.

“I think his passion for the game and his team drove Liverpool forward at times and his all-round quality on the ball meant he could bring the team forward in ways other players couldn’t.

“He was a good example as a leader for me growing up.”

Having been given the captaincy in light of the uncertainty surrounding Hojbjerg’s future, it would be understandable if there was a hint of awkwardness between the midfield pair.

But Ward-Prowse insists this isn’t the case.

His 17-year spell at the club has led to seeing players come and go, especially since making his debut back in 2011.

Hojbjerg wouldn’t be the first big name to trade St Mary’s for a top side and he won’t be the last.

However, Ward-Prowse paid tribute to how the Danish international has handled the captaincy issue behind the scenes.

“He has been a great support which says a lot of positive stuff about him in terms of how he’s dealt with it,” Ward-Prowse explained.

“For me it could have been an awkward situation, but he’s been nothing but supportive.

“When we are playing together you can see that we are all together as a team and he’s helping us all the way.”

Ward-Prowse’s short stint as Saints’ captain has led to two wins and a defeat, as well as a scintillating free kick away to Watford.

Tests don’t come much tougher than Manchester City, though, and the academy lad knows Sunday’s game is going to be a challenging affair.

Pep Guardiola’s City swept Premier League champions Liverpool to one side on Thursday, sealing a 4-0 victory, and will no doubt be in the mood to continue that ruthless edge at St Mary’s.

With the title gone, their focus will undoubtedly turn to winning the Champions League, with some sections of the media claiming they are using this run of games as a ‘pre-season’ for their European showdown in August.

However, Ward-Prowse doesn’t think that’s going to be the case.

The 25-year-old said: “You’re talking about one of the best teams in the world which is led by one of the most ruthless managers out there.

“I can’t see them viewing the game like that, but I think from our perspective it’s always a great challenge to play against these teams.

“We are full of confidence off the back of a good result, we’ve just hit the 40-point mark and we are only looking up now.

“It’s going to be a great challenge and a good match.”