Marcello Lippi, the only manager to have won the World Cup and European Cup, yesterday said that he would be cheering for Arsenal as the latter competition unfolded.
The Premier League leaders are among four English sides, along with Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, awaiting their fate in today's quarter-final draw, a quartet, said Lippi, everyone would be trying to avoid.
"Any of the four could win the Champions League, but at this moment the way Arsenal play is the one I like best. It would be good for football if Arsenal could win. They play on the ground, they manoeuvre the ball, very, very well. It's very fast and very technical."
Lippi's verdict may come as a surprise to Sir Alex Ferguson, a long-time friend of the former Italian manager. Lippi did add: "Manchester United play great, great football and Alex Ferguson is the type of manager able to renew his team, and, every four to five years, to bring it back to an excellent level of top-class football."
Ferguson, incidentally, is a lone dissenting voice among the English clubs in enthusing at the prospect of an all-Premier League tie. With no seeding or country protection in the midday draw, to be made in Nyon, Switzerland, an all-English tie looks probable. The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, and the Liverpool and Chelsea players Steven Gerrard and John Terry all said they wished to draw foreign opponents, but Ferguson said: "We will relish the chance to face another English team in the quarter-finals."
Manchester United are unique among the Premier League clubs in not having faced domestic opponents in the Champions League before. Chelsea and Arsenal met in the quarter-finals in 2004, with Chelsea winning. Chelsea and Liverpool have met three times, twice in the knockout stages, with Liverpool winning both times. The other qualifiers are Barcelona, Roma, Schalke and Fenerbahce.
Lippi, who reached four European finals with Juventus, winning in 1996, added: "When I won it, it was the last year of the European Cup [when only domestic champions entered]. Then it became the Champions League and now it's possible that even a team that has finished fourth can win it. It was more beautiful, more significant when it was the European Cup."
* The France striker Karim Benzema, who had been linked with a move to Old Trafford, has extended his Lyons contract until 2013. "It is out of the question to leave now. I want to continue to improve here," he said.
Read an extensive interview with Marcello Lippi in tomorrow's IndependentReuse content