Gennaro Gattuso is worthy of retaining the top job at AC Milan for the long term, according to former Italy team-mate Marco Materazzi.
Gattuso, a crowd hero at Milan during his playing days as a defensive midfielder, stepped up from the youth side to take the reins of the first team in November after Vincenzo Montella was sacked.
The 40-year-old has guided the Rossoneri's expensively assembled squad from mid-table back into contention for Europa League qualification, as well as booking a place in May's Coppa Italia final against Juventus.
Milan travel to face reigning champions Juve on Saturday, amid reports their coach is set to pen a contract extension until June 2021, and Materazzi - who won the 2006 World Cup alongside Gattuso - believes he has proved he is worthy of an extended tenure.
"I believe that when a coach steps up from being in charge of the B team and asks to keep the same contract, while trying to prove himself with the first team, he has proved he can be treated as a top coach,” the ex-Inter defender stated to Omnisport, speaking courtesy of Hublot.
"They've produced an incredible come-back. Credit to Rino, who was able to create a good atmosphere and a solid group. We'll see if he gets the job next year too."
Milan travel to the Allianz Stadium to face Juve knowing that a win over the league leaders will not only put pressure on fifth-placed Lazio, over whom they have a game in hand, but also lend Napoli fresh impetus in their bid to rip the Scudetto from the Bianconeri's grasp.
Expanding on Gattuso’s ability to revive the club, Materazzi praised his one-time Milanese rival's leadership skills.
"If such great champions start following you, it means that you are a good manager, not just a motivator," he said.
"Gattuso has proved an extraordinary ability to create a group where everybody pulls in the same direction, earning the trust and respect of players who had won a lot.
"It's not just luck. Good results have come with an improvement of all players."
Asked about the title race, Materazzi was reluctant to call a winner and believed that it would come down to Napoli’s visit to Juventus on April 22.
"It’s not easy to pick a favourite. The draw versus SPAL made things a bit tricky for Juve again, as they will also have to focus on the Champions League," he added.
"I like Napoli a lot, I truly believe they play the best football in Italy, but it will be very hard for them winning away in Turin.
"If they do that, they would fully deserve to go on and win the Scudetto."