AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso is 'right leader' - Carlo Ancelotti
Carlo Ancelotti has sung Gennaro Gattuso's praises after his former pupil turned around AC Milan's fortunes since replacing Vincenzo Montella as head coach in November.
Milan have picked up 21 points in 11 games under Gattuso's guidance after having earned just 20 in 14 games under his predecessor.
As a result, Milan find themselves level on points with sixth-placed Sampdoria, who occupy the final Europa League qualifying berth, and eight points adrift of fourth-placed Lazio and the prospect of Champions League football next season.
When Montella was sacked, that gap was 11 points, and Sampdoria were six ahead.
"To be honest, I had hoped this would happen, but I wasn't certain," Ancelotti told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "When you take over mid-season, there are always lots of unknowns and many obstacles to get past, and Rino's been excellent in dribbling his way around the difficulties and getting the players to follow him.
"I see him as a genuine leader; he's got the group in his grasp and the lads would walk through fire for him, and this is decisive in football. Gattuso is the spirit of Milan. He's needed little time to find the right mix. Sometimes it can take months or years, but Rino's taken just a month."
Although Ancelotti admitted he was surprised by how well Gattuso has done, he knew he had it in him.
Gattuso was a crucial member of Ancelotti's Milan team between 2001 and 2009, winning the Champions League in 2003 and 2007, as well as Serie A in 2003-04.
"Rino was a pillar of my Milan team," he said. "Now, with plenty of wisdom, he's trying to restore those values to the centre of his project. We are in touch often. For me, Rino's like a brother; we've shared a lot -- everything, I'd say.
"I would now tell him to accept the praise he's receiving, but to forget it quickly, and remember that those who are paying you compliments today are ready to criticise you tomorrow."
Milan travel to Roma at the weekend for what will be a true test of their credentials under Gattuso, with the 1-0 win over Sampdoria on Sunday already suggesting they can challenge the teams above them in the standings.
Victory against Roma would see them narrow the gap on their opponents to six points and Ancelotti believes Champions League qualification would become an objective.
"If they carry on with this rhythm, then yes," he said. "But let's not put too much pressure on them and let's see how things go game by game. To earn a place in the Champions League, the teams ahead of them need to slow down.
"The Rossoneri have got to be ready in case Roma, Lazio and Inter [Milan] have difficulties. Given where they were, though, it's already a great achievement to be here now talking about the Champions League. Can you remember how depressed everybody was not so long ago?
That depression has been lifted by a workaholic who "is first to training at Milanello and transmits so much energy," according to defender Leonardo Bonucci, who would go as far as to say that he has "never seen anything like it from any other coach."
That is a bold statement from a defender who has worked under Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri, but one he stands by.
"We've created a group and made a team, and we're finally seeing the results on the field," Bonucci said, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Huge credit for this goes to Gattuso."
With things finally looking promising on the field, Il Corriere della Sera cast more doubt over the takeover of the Serie A club by Yonghong Li last April by reporting that the Chinese businessman is in the process of declaring bankruptcy.
Adriano Galliani, who was Milan's general manager at the time of the takeover, dismissed the report, saying in an interview on Canale 5's Mattino Cinque programme that he has every faith in the financial stability of Milan's new owners.
"This gentleman, Yonghong Li, bought Milan for a substantial amount -- €740 million," he said. "We were assisted by advisors from a huge legal team and a huge international bank, while Yonghong Li was also backed by a huge legal team and a huge international bank.
"Not only did he buy Milan, but three other things happened: in June, he presented the registration papers to the Lega Serie A, and he was approved. The second thing is that the Elliott fund lent him €350 million, and they would have done their homework on him.
"The third thing is he then went on an extraordinary spending spree in the summer, at over €200 million, providing all the guarantees and assurances required in Italy. I don't know how things are in China, but one plus one plus one should make three, and all of the things so far have been that way."
Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.