Steve Bruce is happy to be tested “to the limit” by Newcastle maverick Allan Saint-Maximin as he learns his trade in the Premier League.
The 23-year-old Frenchman has swapped his wide role for the number 10 slot in recent games and while that remains a work in progress, the Magpies head coach is happy to nurture the talent of a man he admits is “different” off the pitch as well as on it.
Bruce said: “He is a bit different. Everything in life is a bit different from him. He is not your straightforward player. He is always going to be a challenge.
“But let me tell you something about him which is most important: he absolutely loves football, playing with his dog in the garden, or the kids.
“Ask him any result around Europe or any player and he will tell you, which is unique. He enjoys training and playing football.
“He is always going to be a test because of what he is… testing.”
As with many flair players, Saint-Maximin, who will hope to reprise last season’s match-winning heroics at Southampton when the sides meet on the south coast on Friday evening, can blow hot and cold in games, although Bruce knows the smooth is more than worth the rough.
He said: “He can win you a match, but there are times where you want him to do a bit more. All of those things are in there, but he’s young, and he’s still coming to terms with it as far as I’m concerned, he’s still learning.
“He will test you to the limit, but he’s worth it. He’s a larger than life personality, and he’s enjoyable to watch, whether he’s getting kicked or he’s taking on somebody. Whatever it is, there’s never a dull moment.”
Newcastle’s hopes at St Mary’s Stadium could depend to some extent on how successfully they deny James Ward-Prowse the chance to punish them after his stunning free-kick double at Aston Villa last weekend, which had a familiar look about it for Bruce.
He said: “He reminds me, the way he strikes it, the way he takes it, the way he kicks it; he’s so like a (David) Beckham.
“He epitomises Southampton, really, and what they’re all about. I’ve got the highest regard for him, he’s a really good player, the kid.”