SHANGHAI: Italian World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro was named manager of Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande on Thursday, returning to the club that cut him loose in 2015.
The 44-year-old former Juventus and Real Madrid defender, who quit Tianjin Quanjian earlier this week, signed a five-year contract and replaces Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari at China’s perennial league winners.
Cannavaro will be expected to continue Guangzhou Evergrande’s domination of the Chinese Super League (CSL)—on Saturday they lifted a seventh consecutive league title—and inspire them to a third AFC Champions League crown.
Speaking at the Italian’s unveiling, club boss Xu Jiayin, China’s richest man, said Cannavaro will also be tasked with fielding a side of only Chinese players by 2020.
In the summer they lost Brazilian international midfielder Paulinho to Barcelona, but their overseas contingent still includes three other Brazilians and Colombian striker Jackson Martinez.
“I am flattered and happy to come back here, I said that I will come back one day,” Cannavaro told the media.
“I am excited by Evergrande’s plan in the next few years and happy to work together with the club.”
Cannavaro said that he was relishing building a team of homegrown stars, part of a bigger push by the Chinese government to improve the fortunes of the underachieving national side by promoting local players.
“I am sure that players from Evergrande can not only serve Evergrande, but what we hope even more is that they can serve the national team,” said Cannavaro, cautioning however that would take time.
Mobbed by fans Cannavaro, who resigned as Tianjin boss just days after steering them into the Champions League for the first time in their history, was in charge at Evergrande for seven months to June 2015.
But he was replaced by World Cup-winning coach Scolari after what Cannavaro described at the time as a “consensual resolution” of his contract.
Cannavaro’s abrupt departure in 2015 disappointed many Evergrande supporters and he left with the team top of the league and in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Hundreds of fans had mobbed him at the airport as he departed the southern Chinese city.
The Italian former international defender, who captained his country to World Cup glory in 2006, winning FIFA World Player of the Year, next managed for a brief time in Saudi Arabia before returning to China with ambitious Tianjin.
He led them to promotion from China’s second-tier League One and then to third in the CSL—and a Champions League play-off berth—by beating Evergrande 2-1 away on the final day of the season on Saturday.
The Tianjin players tossed Cannavaro up in the air afterwards in celebration, but speculation was already swirling that he was poised to leave to go back to Guangzhou.
Former Portuguese international Paulo Sousa replaced Cannavaro at Tianjin.
Two-time former Champions League winners Evergrande reached this season’s quarter-finals before being narrowly beaten over two legs by Andre Villas-Boas’s Shanghai SIPG, their nearest domestic rivals.
Cannavaro is among a trio of big-name Italians coaching in China, with Fabio Capello at Jiangsu Suning and Marcello Lippi—formerly in charge at Evergrande—manager of the national side.