Italian World Cup winner Marcello Lippi has officially returned as coach of China’s men’s national football team, four months after he exited the post.
Lippi’s last game in charge was China’s dismal 3-0 defeat to Iran in the Asian Cup back in January. That left him with a record of 10 wins and 11 losses from 30 games in charge.
While the women’s team became the first side to qualify for this summer’s World Cup in France, China’s men continue to be something of an embarrassment for a nation that has a fervent football fanbase among its population of 1.4 billion. They’re currently ranked 74th in the world by FIFA, one place behind Panama (population 4 million) and marginally ahead of Cape Verde Islands (population 546,000).
Lippi is popular among Chinese fans, with many believing the national team showed signs of improvement on his watch. His re-appointment had been suspected ever since compatriot Fabio Cannavaro quit in April after just six weeks and two games in charge.
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“Since Lippi coached the national team, they have shown a positive and tenacious fighting spirit,” the Chinese Football Association (CFA) said, according to a report from AFP. “We believe that in the days to come, under the leadership of Lippi and his coaching team, the national men’s side will make a full impact on their World Cup dreams.”
Despite the CFA striking such an optimistic note, a survey conducted by Jinri Toutiao on microblogging platform Weibo in the wake of Lippi’s re-appointment showed fans weren’t getting too carried away. “Does the national team have a chance?” asked the poll. At time of writing, over 80% of the 16,000 respondees had voted “No chance; whoever is in charge it’s no good.”
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Ultimately, it still feels like the men’s team’s best chance of making a World Cup finals any time soon is simply to host the thing. So what might make a decorated coach such as Lippi return to take on such a seemingly thankless task? As the top-rated comment under ChinaNews’ announcement of the appointment on Weibo has it, “Money is a good thing”.
Lippi was reportedly paid 28 million USD a year during his last stint with the men’s team, making him one of the best-paid coaches in the world. The Chinese Football Association are unlikely to have tempted him back for more punishment with significantly less than that amount.
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