China hire Lippi to take over na­tional foot­ball team

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

World Cup-win­ning man­ager Mar­cello Lippi was hired yes­ter­day to take over the na­tional foot­ball team in the lat­est sign of China's com­mit­ment to be­com­ing a se­ri­ous force in world soccer.

The Chi­nese Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion an­nounced Lippi's hir­ing af­ter re­ports cir­cu­lated this week sug­gest­ing a deal was close.

The 68-year-old Lippi led Italy to the 2006 World Cup ti­tle, won five Ital­ian league ti­tles as man­ager of Ju­ven­tus, and won three Chi­nese league ti­tles while man­ag­ing Guangzhou Ever­grande be­fore an­nounc­ing his re­tire­ment in 2014.

The Chi­nese as­so­ci­a­tion posted pho­tos of a smil­ing Lippi sign­ing a con­tract, but did not im­me­di­ately con­firm re­ports that his deal was worth 50 mil­lion eu­ros ($54 mil­lion), which would make him one of the high­est-paid world.

It won't be easy for the Ital­ian. Lippi, who will be for­mally in­tro­duced on Fri­day, in­her­its a na­tional team that's made one World Cup in its en­tire his­tory — and did not score a sin­gle goal in that tour­na­ment.

Cur­rently, China is ranked No. 84 by FIFA and in dan­ger of miss­ing the 2018 World Cup. Its pre­vi­ous coach, Gao Hongbo, re­signed af­ter a 2-0 loss on Oc­to­ber 11 to Uzbek­istan. That fol­lowed a 1-0 loss at home to war-torn Syria, af­ter which fans were seen protest­ing in the streets.

But China has es­tab­lished a na­tional goal of cre­at­ing a foot­ball su­per­power ca­pa­ble of win­ning the World Cup by 2050. The drive is led by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, a noted soccer fan who is said to have watched with frus­tra­tion a 1983 ex­hi­bi­tion in coaches in the which the English side Wat­ford trounced China.

Chi­nese Su­per League teams have given big con­tracts to in­ter­na­tional play­ers like Alex Teix­eira and Jack­son Martinez, and prom­i­nent coaches like for­mer Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Sco­lari and for­mer Eng­land boss Sven-Go­ran Erikkson.

A 50-point plan to pro­mote foot­ball in the coun­try in­cludes set­ting up school pro­grams, re­cruit­ing for­eign coaches and cre­at­ing 70,000 new fields and 50 mil­lion school-age play­ers by 2020.

China has made im­prov­ing its soccer per­for­mance a test of its pres­tige on the world stage. It's em­ployed a top-down ap­proach rem­i­nis­cent of ef­forts that pro­duced cham­pi­ons in sev­eral Olympic sports, though some ques­tion whether a World Cup com­peti­tor can be de­vel­oped that way.

Mar­cello Lippi, right, shakes hands with pres­i­dent of the Chi­nese FA, Cai Zhen­hua

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