Carlton Cole has praised the “focus” of Jeremy Ngakia after the West Ham youngster’s impressive double showing against Liverpool in recent weeks.
The 19-year-old West Ham academy graduate made his debut for the club against the runaway Premier League leaders on January 29 at the London Stadium, with his second appearance for David Moyes' side coming in the return fixture at Anfield on Monday Night Football.
West Ham lost out on both occasions, even after taking a 2-1 lead on Merseyside, but Cole was full of praise for full-back Ngakia, who impressed twice against the Reds' devastating front line.
"I thought his concentration and focus on Monday night was immense. To hold his own against someone like Sadio Mane, one of the best in the world at the moment, and other players like Andy Robertson, was a measure of his quality," Cole said.
"Jeremy is a natural defender. I think he started as a winger, but he has that natural instinct to defend - his reading of the game and sense of positioning is very, very good. And he has developed that entirely in the West Ham academy, which is huge credit to the staff and coaches who have guided him on his journey.
"In some ways, he has probably been helped by the fact that he has come into the side under the radar in terms of there not being any hype about him before his debut. To be honest, I don't think there will have even been many West Ham fans who knew much about him, perhaps only those who watch academy or U23 games, and so he has been able to develop without too much fuss."
Cole also praised Ngakia for showing the "character" needed to make the step up to Premier League level.
"With young players, you watch them develop and progress at academy level, you see the quality and ability they have, but you can never be 100 per cent sure that they are going to be capable of making that step up to first-team, Premier League football," Cole said.
"Because it is a huge, huge step, not just in terms of the standard of play, but also the mental strength and character needed to perform on that stage. Some young players - even the most talented and promising ones - freeze when they get their opportunity and find it impossible to play with confidence and freedom in those surroundings.
"For that reason, when Jeremy got his chance - and I'm talking about the first game against Liverpool at home, I was worried for him. Not because I doubted his ability, but simply because you can just never really tell how a young player will cope when they don't have any previous experience.
"But he was outstanding in that fixture, and he was outstanding again on Monday night. Don't forget, he is coming into a very difficult situation with where we are in the table, and not only that but he has played his first two matches against the European and world champions, who will be Premier League champions this season."
Cole also called on the West Ham fans ahead of Saturday's match against Southampton as they attempt to boost their chances of staying in the Premier League.
"We've been in this position before - I certainly have as a player at West Ham - and I know how important the support of the fans is to the players when they are going through tough times," he said.
"I have said it before, but they can actually be a 12th man. London Stadium when everyone is creating noise and positive energy is a fantastic place to be, and we need the players to walk out into that wall of noise just before 3pm on Saturday.
"Hopefully that spurs them on to control the game, and go on to win comfortably, but I would also urge the fans to do the same thing even if things aren't going well. This is the Premier League, there are no poor teams, and we have to be realistic and accept that sometimes things don't go as planned. If we do happen to go a goal behind, as we did on Monday, the fans need to be even more vocal and behind the team, because as a player you do genuinely feel that on the pitch.
"Most importantly, the environment needs to be one of togetherness and strength. Any negative issues need to be put to one aside and only by being together can we get the win that we all need to kick us on for the rest of the season."