Italian coaching great Marcello Lippi is expected to return to China to manage the Chinese men's national soccer team, the Global Times has learned.
Lippi was seen in China on April 25 and 26 after he left the post in January following China's exit at the Asian Cup quarterfinals with a 3-0 defeat to Iran.
Previously it was Fabio Cannavaro, head coach of Chinese Super League giants Guangzhou Evergrande, who got close to the job, but he quit following a China Cup fiasco in March.
During Lippi's previous tenure, he led the national team in 2017 to defeat rivals South Korea 1-0 at home, the first time China beat the Taegeuk Warriors in a competitive match in 32 years. China in 2010 beat South Korea 3-0 in the East Asian Cup, but many observers have noted that game did not really involve full-strength teams.
Fans hailed some spirited, tactical performances under Lippi, but the Italian also faced criticism for not leading the team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup on a reported annual salary of 20 million euros ($22 million).
It is not known how much his annual salary will be for his second term, but media reports have suggested 18 million euros after tax.
China will play its first 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier in September, which means Lippi has four months to replace some of the aging and veteran players in the squad.
Domestically, nobody has been found to fill the boots of 38-year-old midfielder Zheng Zhi, for example.
The "Silver Fox" tried out young players in his last stint, but with disappointing results.
The top eight Asian teams will automatically become seeded teams in the qualifiers, with China currently sitting in eighth place in the latest FIFA Asia rankings.
If Lippi does not want his team to face strong teams in the first round of the qualifying series, he has to ensure the team retains their position in the FIFA Asia rankings.
That makes China's friendly games in June against Tajikistan and the Philippines crucial to maintaining China's ranking and so its World Cup qualifying prospects.
The two games are scheduled to be held in Guangzhou, where Lippi had a stint with Evergrande from 2012 to 2015.
The Italian coach may have more options for his squad as China has started to naturalize foreign players. He is not new to this: Lippi's World Cup-winning Italy squad in 2006 included Mauro Camoranesi, born in Argentina.
With the world governing body FIFA mulling expansion of the 2022 World Cup from 32 to 48 teams, Asia might increase teams from 4.5 to eight - China's exact ranking.
As the Chinese FA is bidding for the 2023 Asian Cup, Lippi might ask that his contract focuses not only on the 2022 FIFA World Cup but also on the home intracontinental competition.