BEIJING: Italian master-coach Marcello Lippi is facing one of his toughest assignments as he attempts what some fans think is impossible: putting under-achievers China on the path to greatness.
Starting with Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Qatar, the silver-haired Lippi will set out to justify his hefty salary as China’s new boss and win over a sceptical public.
Lippi, 68, won the World Cup with Italy and he is the only coach to lift both the European and Asian Champions League trophies, with Juventus and China’s Guangzhou Evergrande.
But he faces an entirely different challenge as coach of China, whose dismal performances have seen them lambasted by their own long-suffering fans.
While China’s well-heeled clubs, notably Evergrande, have spent their way to success, ‘Team Dragon’ remain mired at 84th in the FIFA rankings, below Israel, Curacao and Libya.
Such is fans’ disillusionment that one widely circulated comment on social media compared Lippi’s arrival to a tycoon hiring “a Harvard graduate to tutor his retarded son”.
Lippi’s appointment — at a reported $20 million a year — is the latest gambit by the Chinese FA, under pressure from President Ji Xinping to craft an era of success.
The cigar-loving, medallion-sporting Lippi led Italy to the 2006 World Cup title, four years after China made their sole appearance at the tournament in 2002, when they failed to win a point or even score a goal.