BEIJING: China’s football body announced the sacking of national coach Alain Perrin on Friday after a disappointing run of results left their World Cup qualifying campaign hanging by a thread.
The Chinese Football Association (CFA) said the decision had been made “out of consideration for the performance of the Chinese national team” and “the needs of future team-building”.
After “sincere consultations” the two sides had decided Perrin “will no longer work as the head coach of China’s national team”, a statement on the CFA website said, adding that the search for a replacement would start immediately.
The news comes just a year after the ex-Lyon and Marseille boss led China to the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup in Australia, in their best performance in more than a decade.
But optimism has since faded, and the CFA made a public apology and announced a review into the Frenchman’s performance after a 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw with Hong Kong in November.
With two games to go in the second round of qualifying for Russia 2018, China are third in their group and teetering on the brink of elimination.
The way forward for China remains unclear, but they will be desperate to solve the riddle of creating a national team to match the country’s soaring football ambitions.
Spearheaded by football-loving President Xi Jinping, China hopes to host and even win a World Cup, and has ordered the game to be played more widely in schools.
The country is also preparing to bid for the 2023 Asian Cup, the continent’s biggest football championship.
The challenge of leading the world’s most populous and second-largest economy to football glory would intrigue many coaches — but China’s record invites caution.
China are currently languishing at 82nd in the rankings, below the likes of Equatorial Guinea and Libya, and have only ever reached one World Cup, in 2002.
The domestic game long suffered from endemic corruption, with a history of match-rigging and bribery, but authorities have sought to clean up the game in recent years.
Now their big-spending clubs are finding success, with Guangzhou Evergrande winning the AFC Champions League twice in the last three years.
‘Hire an extraterrestrial’
Perrin arrived in Beijing in February 2014, months after ex-Real Madrid and Spain boss Jose Antonio Camacho was sent packing midway through a lucrative contract.
His highpoint was last year’s Asian Cup, where China won all three group games for the first time before losing in the quarter-finals to eventual champions Australia.
But China then drew friendlies with Haiti and Tunisia, and lost 2-0 to South Korea before a run of World Cup qualifiers which ultimately spelled doom for Perrin.
China drew 0-0 at home with Hong Kong and lost 1-0 away to Qatar to put their hopes in jeopardy, before easing their frustrations with a 12-0 pummelling of Bhutan.
China then faced a politically charged trip to semi-autonomous Hong Kong, where fans jeered their shared anthem, to rescue their campaign.
However, a second goalless draw prompted the apology from the CFA, which also distanced itself from Perrin.
China captain Zheng Zhi also shied away from publicly backing Perrin when questioned by AFP at the Asian Football Confederation awards in November.
Perrin, 59, who led Lyon to a French league and Cup double in 2008, has also managed Saint-Etienne and had an eight-month stint at English side Portsmouth in 2005 — where he achieved just four victories in 20 Premiership matches.
Before taking up the China post he managed a team in Qatar, which is to host the 2022 World Cup.
Some Chinese fans said the CFA had questions to answer.
“No matter who you hire or dismiss, the national team performance doesn’t change. The key issue is not the coach, but the system of Chinese football,” posted one social media user.
“Without changing the system, it would be useless even if you hire an extraterrestrial to coach the team.”