For­mer Italy coach wants to get China’s na­tional soc­cer team to be­lieve

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Wil­liam Hen­nelly The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this story. Con­tact the writer at williamhen­nelly@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

To Mar­cello Lippi, China’s men’s soc­cer team has enough abil­ity but the play­ers need to be­lieve in them­selves. “I be­lieve the play­ers are all skill­ful and have no need to feel in­fe­rior or envy to­ward play­ers of other coun­tries, be­cause they can reach the same level,” Lippi told reporters at a press con­fer­ence on Oct 28, at which he was for­mally in­tro­duced as the team’s head coach.

“What they need is a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity, mis­sion and be­lief,” he said.

The vet­eran Lippi, 68, should be a pretty good judge of ta­lent. He coached the Az­zurri, Italy’s na­tional team, to vic­tory over France in the 2006 World Cup.

Lippi was ac­com­pa­nied on Fri­day by China Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (CFA) Pres­i­dent Cai Zhen­hua. Lippi’s con­tract is worth a ru­mored $21.8 mil­lion a year to 2019, but the vet­eran man­ager said he took the job not for the money but be­cause he has a soft spot for Chi­nese soc­cer and ap­pre­ci­ates China’s re­spect.

Andrea Sar­tori, global head of sports ad­vi­sory prac­tice for KPMG, whose Foot­ball Bench­mark re­ports cover the busi­ness of soc­cer, told China Daily that Lippi’s hir­ing is “proof of the se­ri­ous­ness of the Chi­nese lead­er­ship in grow­ing foot­ball in their coun­try and to es­tab­lish China through var­i­ous ini­tia­tives (e.g., es­tab­lish­ment of youth academies through­out the coun­try, ma­jor Euro­pean clubs ac­qui­si­tion, spon­sor­ship of FIFA, growth of na­tional league, in­vest­ment in In­front, etc.) as a “su­per foot­ball power”.

(In­front Sports & Me­dia AG is a Swiss sports mar­ket­ing com­pany that was ac­quired by Wanda Group for $1.2 bil­lion in early 2015.)

Lippi is set to make his na­tional coach­ing de­but with China on Nov 15 in a World Cup qual­i­fier against Qatar.

“Even though China faces a tough road to qual­ify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, I still be­lieve play­ers could com­plete the seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble mis­sion by bet­ter team­work and shoul­der­ing more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties,” Lippi said.

Gao Hongbo quit as head coach af­ter a 2-0 loss to Uzbek­istan, leav­ing China with only one point in four games in the last round of World Cup qual­i­fy­ing for Asia.

“In the qual­i­fi­ca­tion stages, our chances are not great, but what we need to do is pull to­gether — the en­tire squad, the CFA, lo­gis­tics, med­i­cal team — and max­i­mize our chances and ac­com­plish this im­prob­a­ble mis­sion,” Lippi said. “Af­ter that, we can con­sider our long-term is­sues.”

China, ranked No. 84 in the world, has qual­i­fied for the World Cup once, when the 2002 tour­na­ment was co-hosted by South Korea and Ja­pan. The Dragons ex­ited the group stages with­out scor­ing a goal.

This is Lippi’s sec­ond tour in China. He guided Guangzhou Ever­grande of the Chi­nese Su­per League to one Asian and three do­mes­tic cham­pi­onship ti­tles from 2012 to 2015. He coached Italy’s Ju­ven­tus to the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle in 1996 and also won five Serie A (Italy’s top flight) cups in his ca­reer.

Per­haps Lippi’s great­est feat in China was when his Ever­grande squad won the 2013 Asian Cham­pi­ons League.

Lippi, born in Viareg­gio in Italy’s Tus­cany, said he missed China and had wanted to re­turn. “How they ap­pre­ci­ated and re­spected my work and my team ap­peals to me,” he said.

“Hope­fully, he could help the na­tional team es­tab­lish a tech­ni­cal style that fits into our con­di­tions and ad­vise us on how to re­form the na­tional pro­gram for fit­ness, lo­gis­tics, player de­vel­op­ment and man­age­ment,” said Cai.

Tan Jianx­i­ang, a sports so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at South China Nor­mal Univer­sity in Guangzhou, sounded a skep­ti­cal note.

“The cen­tral gov­ern­ment has made it clear that suc­cess should be built upon grass­roots par­tic­i­pa­tion and solid de­vel­op­ment pro­grams,” Tan said. “If we don’t have enough young play­ers ... the best coaches in the world could do lit­tle to make a dif­fer­ence.”

Tan said fa­cil­i­ties and coaches need to be im­proved at the grass roots. China is well on the way to do­ing that, hav­ing hired coaches from Brazil and put on clin­ics with Brazil­ian play­ers re­cently.

China wants to open 50,000 schools for soc­cer ed­u­ca­tion by 2025; it has 14,000 now.

“What I need to know first is why our play­ers play very well for their club but only at 40 per­cent for their coun­try,” Lippi said. “I want to tell them it’s the high­est honor to put on the coun­try’s shirt, and they need to fight and per­form at the same level.”

If Lippi does suc­ceed, there likely will be a lot more young­sters in China wear­ing that red jersey with the CFA patch.

PHOTO / IC

Mar­cello Lippi (right), new head coach of the Chi­nese men’s soc­cer team, and Cai Zhen­hua, pres­i­dent of the Chi­nese Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, at­tend an Oct 28 press con­fer­ence in Beijing an­nounc­ing Lippi’s hir­ing.

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