Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, was so fulsome in his praise yesterday of Steven Gerrard in the wake of the Liverpool midfielder's hat-trick against Napoli on Thursday night, he left reporters questioning whether the Premier League champions might be considering another offer for the player they tried to sign for £35m in 2004.
Ancelotti denied it. "No, he is not on our list," the Italian said, before adding later: "I'm not interested because I don't have the money to buy."
Those days are gone at Stamford Bridge now austerity is hitting home. What is more, if there is one player likely to move from Anfield to Chelsea in the near future it will be striker Fernando Torres rather than the Merseyside club's phenomenal midfielder. So when Ancelotti spoke yesterday of his desire to manage Gerrard one day, it was perhaps more with an eye on the England job than the opening to another prolonged transfer saga.
Ancelotti, whose team visit Anfield tomorrow, holds Gerrard in the very highest esteem, and he considers him to be a midfielder almost without peer in the modern game.
"Obviously he's one of the best players in the world and I'd like to manage him one time in the future," Ancelotti said. "If you can manage the best players, it's easier to win. I don't know him as a person. I think he's a good man. But the reason I would like to manage him is because I've managed a lot of fantastic players, and he's one of the best players."
Ancelotti said there is currently no one in the world capable of performing in the centre of the park quite like Gerrard. "In Italy, when I played, there were players like [Giancarlo] Antognoni at Fiorentina, Rainer Bonhof in Germany. Today, Gerrard. Full stop. He can be a holding midfielder. He has fantastic shots, passes and skills. He is the complete midfielder," said Ancelotti.
In addition, the Italian insisted playing both Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the same team should not be a problem, despite it being a major headache for a succession of England managers over the past decade. "Obviously they can play together if the shape is good for them," Ancelotti said. "And also if they have the support of the other players. One team can support the performances of Gerrard and Lampard in their side. Lampard has to play as he plays with us, on the left. And Gerrard can play in every position on the pitch in midfield."
Ancelotti recognises in Gerrard the same spirit he sees in his own captain John Terry, the rarest of modern players who have come through the youth ranks at a top side and are ingrained with the club's character. He said: "I think Gerrard knows very well the tradition and history of this club. He's happy to wear the shirt. The shirt is 'inside' him. For this reason, it's important for the other players to have a team-mate who is a 'Liverpool player'. It's the same with Terry, and was with [Paolo] Maldini [at Milan]. They're very good examples for the young players or those who arrive in the new team. They show the right behaviour of what is expected of them as a Liverpool or Chelsea player."
Tomorrow's trip to Liverpool leaves the Chelsea manager with a feeling of unfinished business, and a grudge that dates back to 1984, when an injured Ancelotti watched from the stands in Rome's Olympic Stadium as his Roma team-mates lost the European Cup final to Joe Fagan's Liverpool team on penalties.
He was to suffer again in the 2005 Champions League final, when Gerrard inspired Liverpool's miraculous comeback from 3-0 at half-time to beat Ancelotti's Milan on penalties, with goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek mimicking Bruce Grobelaar's 1984 wobbly leg antics during the shootout. The Italian grabbed some revenge two years later, when Milan beat Liverpool 2-1 in the final at Athens.