Beijing (AFP) – World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi was named China’s new boss on Saturday at a time when the country’s ambitions to become a footballing powerhouse have rarely looked more remote.
The appointment of the Italian — one of the world’s most decorated football coaches — comes with China all but out of contention for the 2018 World Cup in Russia following embarrassing qualification losses to Syria and Uzbekistan.
The 68-year-old Lippi, who steered Chinese top-flight side Guangzhou Evergrande to three consecutive domestic league titles from 2012, takes over following the resignation of Gao Hongbo.
“I am proud to announce the start of a new adventure as coach of the Chinese national team,” Lippi tweeted, having travelled to Beijing to accept an official offer for the post.
The Chinese Football Association (CFA) swooped for Lippi after “friendly consultations on both sides”, it said in a statement, without giving details of the wily tactician’s contract.
The CFA said it will hold a press conference on Friday.
The capture of Lippi is a coup for the Chinese, after Gao resigned on October 11 following a 2-0 defeat to Uzbekistan, leaving China with almost no chance of making it to Russia.
Lippi, who masterminded Italy to their most recent World Cup triumph in 2006, boasts a bulging CV that included monumental success at Juventus over a nine-year period that was interrupted by a comparatively disastrous season at Inter Milan in 1999-2000.
But the silver-haired, straight-talking Tuscan will have his work cut out taking on his latest assignment.
China, the most populous nation on Earth, languish a lowly 84th in the FIFA world rankings — sandwiched between Kenya and Guatemala (population 15 million).
They have claimed just one point from four games in the latest World Cup qualification phase and are bottom in Group A, which includes Iran, Uzbekistan, South Korea, Syria and Qatar.
Often a source of national embarrassment, improving the level of football at club and national level has been one of the priorities of China’s President Xi Jinping, a known football fanatic.
Even before taking office, Xi underlined his ambitions for Chinese football: to qualify for the World Cup, to host the event and to one day win it.
China have qualified only once for the World Cup, quietly departing the 2002 edition without even scoring a goal.
Last year officials declared football a compulsory part of the national curriculum, with pledges to open 20,000 football-themed schools by 2017 with the aim of producing more than 100,000 players.
Vast sums of money have been pumped into China’s domestic clubs, even luring international stars away from the English Premier League.
There has also been a splurge of Chinese investment in some of Europe’s top clubs — Inter Milan, Manchester City, Aston Villa, Espanyol and Atletico Madrid to name but a few.
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