Red Star

Marcello Lippi

Hope of the nation

Coach Marcello Lippi gestures as Guangzhou Evergrande football club team member Qin Sheng stands next to him during a training session after a signing ceremony during a rainy day in Guangzhou

Sometimes dubbed the ‘Paul Newman of the soccer world’, the silver-haired Marcello Lippi has had a storied career. The 68 year-old coach led Italy to its most recent World Cup triumph in 2006 and won the Champions League with Juventus in 1996. He has already been a great success in China too, where he steered Guangzhou Evergrande FC to three consecutive domestic league titles. Under his leadership, the team also became the first from China to win the coveted Asian Champions League (see WiC216). Lippi retired from Chinese football in November 2014 and returned to his native Italy.

Why is he in the news?

In August Lippi signed a lucrative €50 million deal to return to Guangzhou to coach his old team (now called Evergrande Taobao) which this month won its sixth consecutive Super League title.

However, on Saturday it was announced that his contract had been annulled and that the Chinese Football Association had asked the Italian to coach the national side instead. His new package is reckoned to be worth €20 million per year and his decision to take this onerous and high-pressure position seems to have been the result of what Southern Metropolis Daily describes as “approaches by the highest levels of government”.

Too big a challenge, even for Lippi?

WiC has pointed out before that coaching the Chinese national team is the poison chalice of world football. The squad is a standing joke in China for its chronic underperformance, a fact that fans were reminded of this month when the national team lost two World Cup qualifiers to Syria and Uzbekistan. The chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia look slim, but fans hope that Lippi’s arrival will at least stop the rot in the national side. “Lippi might not successfully take China to Russia, but a professional management approach will be of great importance for the development of Chinese soccer,” said veteran local football commentator Xie Liang.

Indeed, if Lippi can’t get the squad winning regularly then probably no one can. But President Xi Jinping, the nation’s most influential football fan, will be hoping the Italian is going to deliver a little of the success he achieved in Guangzhou. Of course, in his earlier work in China, Lippi’s job was made a lot easier by the presence of some leading international players in the starting eleven. He won’t have the same luxury with the national team…

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