Lippi getting second shot

2019-05-23 09:52:14China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Italian coach tasked with rebuilding after returning to national team helm

Months after Marcello Lippi's "retirement", the 71-year-old Italian is returning as head coach of China's national soccer team-but will his second stint at the helm see any improvement?

According to Tencent Sports, Lippi will arrive in Guangzhou on Tuesday and his first task will be to compile a new list of 25 candidates for Team China, which will assemble on June 3 for training in the city.

Lippi's assistants are currently scouting matches in the Chinese Super League and second tier China League One.

No details of the contract between Lippi and the Chinese Football Association (CFA) have been revealed, but according to Beijing Youth Daily, the coach's new deal will be similar to his first contract, when he was reportedly paid an annual salary of 20 million euros ($22 million)-the largest contract ever given by the CFA.

Despite a glittering managerial resume that includes winning the 2006 World Cup with Italy, Lippi's original two-year stint delivered little to cheer about as China once again failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The nation's lone finals appearance came in 2002.

Beijing Youth Daily also reported that CSL side Guangzhou Evergrande played "a significant role" in bringing Lippi back to China and the club will take care of the coach's housing requirements. Lippi coached Evergrande from 2012-14.

The Italian never totally left Team China, as he remained a consultant when Fabio Cannavaro assumed the role as coach of both China and Evergrande in March.

Cannavaro resigned as boss of the national team a month later.

Now the priority for Lippi and the revamped Chinese squad is to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar while veterans are retiring and the next generation of players is still in the development stage.

Lippi faced a similar dilemma when making his selections for this year's Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates in January.

Coaching the Asian Cup's oldest squad (average age of 30.2 years), Lippi reportedly became furious in the dressing room after China's crushing 3-0 loss to Iran in the quarterfinals-an outburst that heralded the end of his first coaching term.

"Lippi asked me many times why so many Chinese players' performances for the national team were not as good as what they show for their clubs," 38-year-old Team China captain Zheng Zhi said on China Central Television.

"I told him it was the intense pressure. Many Chinese internationals are very relaxed when they play for their clubs, but on the national team they feel very pressured. So he always tries to build confidence in the team."

When asked if he wanted Lippi to return to the helm, Zheng said: "I think I'd vote for him to come back. The old man would for sure bring more values to the team. We never lost faith in him, and our players all recognize his importance.

"From the beginning until the very last game at the Asian Cup, we never doubted him, despite all the ups and downs."

With Zheng's generation drifting into retirement, Lippi needs to build a younger Team China. His best shot is Espanyol striker Wu Lei, who joined the La Liga club immediately after the Asian Cup and became the first Chinese to score in the league.

Last Saturday, the 27-year-old Wu wrapped up his first La Liga season with a late goal to help Espanyol return to Europa League qualification after 12 years.

The CSL has also started to import naturalized players who could play key roles in Lippi's rebuilding project.

Beijing Guo'an's Li Ke, known as Nico Yennaris in his native England, and Hou Yongyong are the most promising naturalized stars.

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