MANCHESTER United resume the quest for their fifth League title in six years tomorrow buoyed by the praise of the Juventus coach, Marcello Lippi, who believes England's finest are set fair to enjoy the same sort of prosperity in Europe.
Lippi is too cute to use the dubious evidence of a 1-0 win in the Champions' League, in a match which meant everything to Juventus and next to nothing to United.
'With all the good young players they have now,' Lippi said, 'they could be the best club team in the world for the next 10 years.' Music to the ears of his friend and frequent house guest, Brian Kidd, whom Lippi embraced before and after the match in Turin.
Kidd is everything to the tyros in question ? nursemaid, tutor, confessor and unswerving champion - nurturing them for 10 years and taking justifiable pride in their success.
There is never the slightest doubt who is the boss at Old Trafford, but the management is much more of a partnership than is commonly appreciated, and Alex Ferguson is quick to acknowledge Kidd's value.
Kidd devises and runs training; if the team's pattern of play changes, it tends to be at Kidd's suggestion; if the players have a problem it is he who sorts it out. He enjoys more of an influence than the typical No. 2, yet shuns the limelight to a Garboesque extent, so the breadth of his responsibility is largely unknown.
'I don't normally do interviews,' he told me. Why the reticence? 'You get managers and coaches rubbing their gums [boasting] about how they do this and that, but that's not me.' What IS Brian Kidd? Manchester United. Cut him and he would bleed red and white. A native Mancunian, he is as United-daft as the most rabid Stretford Ender. He joined the club as a 14-year-old, in the days when George was Best, and is still there at 48, and would be happy to stay to retirement age.
An unwanted interregnum - shown the door by Tommy Docherty, he played for Arsenal, Manchester City, Everton and Bolton - broke his heart, and the sense of loss is as fresh now as it was more than 20 years ago. It is United's strongest suit when others try to tempt him into management. That and the proteges he calls his 'young pups'.
'This is my seventh season coaching the first team,' Kidd said. 'Before that I was the youth development officer when the lads first came to us, at 11, 12 and 13. I worked with the apprentices as well, and there was a lovely continuity when Archie Knox [Ferguson's erstwhile assistant] left and I stepped up, and was able to bring the lads all the way through.' Of his 'other' family, Kidd said: 'Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville and David Beckham were all naturals, and Paul Scholes had the best football brain I've ever seen in a kid. I first spotted him playing in a little five-a-side locally, and I never had any doubt that he'd make it.
'Gary Neville was different, but his self-belief and determination were marvellous. That kid has worked his socks off and made himself a player. He's gone on to play for England, but every day he still wants to learn and improve. He always wants to go that extra mile, which is terrific.
'Forget about the silky skills. Gary Neville sums up our work ethic. Nicky Butt is another lad who has added so much to his game by working at it. The beauty of these two is that they've listened. They're not little big heads, and I'm so proud of them because they are genuinely nice kids.' There had been suggestions that the trappings of fame, and outside interests, were hampering Beckham's progress. But Kidd said: 'When Becks comes in to work he gives it the full whack, as they all do. He's never been found wanting in training. There's been no problem with his girl and the publicity as far as we're concerned.
'I think people try to second-guess it. Look at Giggsy; he's had the same thing, but you'll never find a nicer kid than Ryan Giggs. They're both unaffected. I'll give you an example. About two months ago there was a schools tournament in Manchester, and they wanted me to present the trophies. I thought, 'I'm old now, who wants me?', so I asked Becks to come. He spent two-and-a-half hours there, before presenting the trophies and charming the sponsors. That's the side people don't see.' Kidd knows success is cyclical, and that it goes awry all too easily. 'When I was playing,' he said, 'we got to the European Cup semi-finals in 1969, and were relegated five years later. People say it couldn't happen again. You bet your life it could.' The trusty lieutenant's role is one he never sought. 'I didn't want the job,' he said. 'I was content working with the kids. What the gaffer saw in me I don't know, but it was all his doing. I asked him once, three or four years ago, 'Why me?', and he just started laughing. I haven't asked again.' Of their relationship, Kidd said: 'We're both from the same working-class backgrounds, which helps. Almighty God makes you and he pairs you, and he's done a smashing job for me. We discuss everything. I've always said what I think, that's the way I am, and I don't think he'd like a yes man.' It takes courage to disagree with him of the blowtorch mouth, but Kidd has never been lacking there. He said: 'We're both very stubborn, and we have rows every week ? no, make that every day. We argue like cat and dog, but once he comes to a decision, I'll back him all the way. He knows that.
'Sometimes he'll look at me and I know he's thinking, 'What a lemon!' When I was first in the job he'd say something simple and I'd think, 'He must reckon I'm thick as two short ones.' But as we went on, he'd pass on little nuggets of knowledge, and I realised I was learning all the time.' The training ground is Kidd's domain, coaching his forte. 'That's my brief,' he said, 'the day-to-day work. The gaffer has got a million and one other things to do ? stuff I wouldn't entertain. I enjoy working with the players, and it's a compliment that he's given me that responsibility.
'He knows things are going to be done the way he wants. It's the same when he's away. There are things I can handle now, off the pitch, that I don't think he should be bothered with. I can deal with the players, and the problems he doesn't need. I'm there to sort out those things. There has never been a problem that has forced me to go to him and say something bad about a player.
'I know how hard it is playing for Manchester United, I know the special demands, and I can't stress enough how much I respect our players.' The most coveted No.2 in the game has turned down the chance to manage two of his old clubs, Everton and Manchester City. Is he not tempted by the challenge of running a team of his own? 'As I see it, with the responsibility the gaffer gives me, I'm doing a manager's job now.' Kidd does, however, admit to unfulfilled ambitions: 'I want to do more for the club, but the powers that be at Manchester United will decide what happens.' Meanwhile, the European Cup will do nicely for starters. His mate, Lippi, is forecasting a United-Juventus final. Does Kidd agree? 'There's too far to go to be talking like that. You win nothing in December.' Manager or not, he is starting to talk like 'the gaffer'.