Following China's 2-1 defeat to Syria in a 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier on Thursday, Marcello Lippi announced his resignation as the head coach of China's national football team. Lippi's unsuccessful second tenure may shed light on the problems that continue beleaguer Chinese football.
Following the match, Lippi said, "a team should spare no efforts in implementing the coach's tactics," indicating that the Chinese squad was not following his instructions.
Chinese footballers' different performances in clubs and the national team have disappointed fans, as Chinese players dominate in intra-continental club competitions, highlighted by Chinese Super League (CSL) giant Guangzhou Evergrande winning the Asian Champions League twice in 2013 and 2015, but struggle to defeat Asian minnows when playing for the national team.
Although official figures have not been released by CSL clubs regarding salaries, it is no secret that players from bigger teams in the Chinese top-flight leagues are earning big money thanks to the generosity of team owners, who are often real estate companies.
Comfort zones relax people. The CSL seems too comfortable for Chinese footballers — less competitive but more money, then why would one abandon significant income to do a more tiring job for less money?
Playing in higher-level overseas competitions benefits Chinese footballers, as they are struggling to keep up with world football's progress.
Wu Lei, China's sole overseas exception, has been with Spain's La Liga side RCD Espanyol for one year. Lei provided the only goal for China in its game against Syria.
Different from Lippi's previous tenure, China now boasts several naturalized players, including Ai Kesen, previously known as Elkson of Brazilian origin who holds a prolific CSL record.
However, it seems Elkson has naturalized not only his nationality but also his football skills. Elkson hasn't scored a goal in the last two World Cup qualifiers when China faced non-minnow teams.
The Chinese Football Association (CFA), often on the receiving end of Chinese football jokes, even wrongfully used a Chinese idiom to describe the team's recent performances as "acceptable" rather than "unacceptable" after issuing a statement accepting Lippi's resignation.
CFA said it would "regroup the national team after a thorough reflection," but what also needs to be issued are the rocketing salaries of Chinese footballers that have helped forge a comfort zone that is draining player potential.