LONDON (Reuters) - Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho has the same quality as Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho, Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino said on Friday.
The 20-year-old Brazilian joined Liverpool in January from Inter Milan with a reputation for quick feet and a turn of pace but with question marks hanging over his physicality and ability to adjust to the all-action Premier League.
He has silenced the doubters, however, with a promising start to life on Merseyside, scoring one and showcasing an armoury of flicks and tricks as Liverpool have won all three of the matches he has started.
Pochettino knows the player well after coaching him during a loan spell at La Liga side Espanyol last season and the pair will come face to face again on Saturday when Liverpool visit Southampton in the Premier League.
"Philippe is a Brazilian player and, as it happens with most Brazilians, he has a special magic in his feet," the Southampton manager told reporters.
"Aside from the magic that he has, he also has an amazing work rate and that makes us doubt whether he fits the mould of a typical Brazilian player or a European one because his work ethic is outstanding.
"What is important about him is he is a good lad, a good kid - a great, humble person.
"I do think Coutinho has that same quality that Ronaldinho and Messi have, but he has much to prove yet.
"What is really clear to me is that Coutinho is a really responsible player - really dedicated and responsible to his own players."
Coutinho's ability has never been in doubt, but he often found himself on the sidelines at Inter with commentators questioning whether with his slight frame meant he could have a sustained impact on matches.
The Premier League is frequently heralded as one of Europe's most physically demanding and the Brazilian has been putting in extra hours in the gym in an effort to acclimatise.
"It is very different here. In Brazil the game is very open, the defenders are not as tight with the attacker. I think this is the hardest thing here," he said on the club website (www.liverpoolfc.com).
"Also, the game is very quick - but I feel I can improve these things during training and improve my intensity.
"I have been doing some body building, too, so I can get more used to the physicality."
(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Pritha Sarkar)