Claudio Ranieri has returned the compliments paid to him by Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri ahead of Fulham's trip to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Sarri spoke of his deep respect for his Italian compatriot before the pair's meeting in a west London derby that pits the Premier League's fourth-placed side against the team propping up the table.
A 3-2 win over Southampton gave Ranieri a fine start to his Craven Cottage tenure and the 67-year-old is relishing a reunion with both his former club and an old friend.
"Sarri is really smart," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I followed him for a few days in Cobham [Chelsea's training ground]. There is great study behind him, good insights, a huge passion.
"When we met, he reminded me of an episode from the days in Florence, more than 20 years ago. They invited me to a technical meeting and Sarri wanted to meet me. He asked me to be able to follow some training of Fiorentina. I replied that there was no problem, but that he would have to visit some Serie C colleagues because our coaches are very good even in the lower series."
All business. November 27, 2018
Fulham have endured a steep learning curve since winning promotion from the Championship and the dramatic victory over the Saints was only their second top-flight victory of the campaign.
However, Ranieri remains confident he can stave off relegation from a division he won with Leicester City in 2016, having now returned to the Premier League after a spell with Nantes.
"I wanted to come back, but it was right to get away for some time with another experience," he said. "Nantes was a nice opportunity. Now I'm here and I'll give it my all to save Fulham.
"The path will be hard and difficult, but I'm sure we will succeed. The team has a good base. We just have to correct something.
"[Specifically] The defensive phase and the general approach. With the players I was clear: I want people running and fighting."
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