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Li hails Lippi influence in China success

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-24 09:17
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Li Tie will remain as Team China's head coach for the final phase of World Cup qualifying, the CFA confirmed this week. [Photo/REUTERS]

After securing his job for at least another round of World Cup qualifiers, Team China head coach Li Tie was quick to thank his predecessor, Marcello Lippi, for contributing to his success.

"I sincerely want to thank Lippi. Honestly speaking, the reason why I have got this far is because I have received a lot of help from many people," Li told Titan Sports before the Chinese Football Association on Monday confirmed the 44-year-old will lead the national team in the final phase of Asian zone qualifying.

"For example, if it wasn't for the support of CFA president Chen Xuyuan, I might not have been able to take over Team China. At that time, many people questioned me, saying I was too young with not enough experience.

"I have to say it was also a risk for the CFA to pick me as a head coach. Maybe someone else can also finish this job. I feel lucky to help the team advance to the next stage of World Cup qualification."

After a year-long postponement of the qualifiers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Li's first official match in charge was last month's 7-0 annihilation of Guam in front of 30,000 spectators in Suzhou, Jiangsu province.

The pandemic presented more difficulties for China when the remaining Group A matches were suddenly switched from Suzhou to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, after coronavirus cases were detected among two rival squads.

But Li's men adapted as best they could to the loss of home advantage, reeling off consecutive victories over the Philippines (2-0), the Maldives (5-0) and Group A leader Syria (3-1) to secure a spot in the final round of Asian zone qualifying.

It came as no surprise then when the CFA confirmed Li will continue as head coach-although a term of employment has not been specified.

"There are many rumors about Li Tie's contract. Each year we conduct an evaluation of the head coach. As long as the team is on the right track to grow, we should keep the stability of the coaching team," CFA president Chen told Xinhua.

"We should not just switch a head coach after a defeat. So Li Tie has no contract issue now. He is now leading the team to make full preparations for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers."

When Li took the reins, China's chances of reaching the next phase of qualifying for the 2022 finals in Qatar looked slim.

He inherited a squad low on confidence following a demoralizing 2-1 defeat to Syria in November 2019 that signaled the end of Lippi's second stint at the helm.

Having worked as Lippi's assistant at Guangzhou FC (formerly known as Guangzhou Evergrande), Li credits the Italian World Cup winner as being a major influence on his fledgling coaching career.

"Ever since he arrived in China, many people have wanted to work with Lippi. I was lucky that he took me in… Being his assistant means you don't need to take risks. Because even if the team is defeated, Lippi will shoulder the responsibility," said Li, a former China international midfielder who played in England with Everton and Sheffield United.

"And working for Lippi, some people might think you are just in it for the money. But years ago, I told Lippi I wanted to be a head coach myself and lead a team on my own. He told me he didn't want me to leave but I needed to go. Because if you want to achieve something, you need to lead the team yourself and make independent judgments.

"Being an assistant is not enough to be a coach. So I really want to thank Lippi. Just imagine that, without his encouragement that day, I wouldn't be able to become who I am today."

Reflecting on Lippi's time in charge of the national team, Li reckons the former Juventus and Inter Milan boss was hamstrung by factors beyond his control.

"We know that during the second half of Lippi's stint in China, the national team's performance was not good enough. One of the reasons was that there was no one like me there who could have facilitated better communication within the squad," said Li, who was the head coach of Chinese Super League club Wuhan Zall during that period.

"Lippi is a world-class head coach. So in many situations, people dared not to tell him what was actually happening in the squad. Many problems occurred due to bad communication. I called Lippi before, asking him if I should return to help him, but he told me to focus on my work and don't worry too much about him."

Reciprocally, the 73-year-old Lippi is glad to see his former apprentice blossom on the international stage.

"I want to tell Li Tie, I'm really happy for him. He has achieved his dream of one day becoming the national team head coach. This was what he wanted and he deserves the position," Lippi told Tencent Sports.

"Li was an outstanding player, and he's a great ambassador for Chinese soccer. He worked with me in the national team and at club level for many years. Maybe the time working with me has helped him. He has enjoyed a great start as head coach of Team China. I really hope China can reach the 2022 World Cup finals."

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