China / China

Lippi confident he can help China reach its goals

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2016-11-06 13:57

Italian soccer legend Marcello Lippi, the new head coach of China's men's national football team, expressed confidence on Oct 28 about helping to improve the game's level in China, but experts called for more grassroots investment.

Lippi, who guided Italy to win the 2006 FIFA World Cup, has embraced a challenging mission to lead the Chinese national team through the Asian qualifying round for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and to revive the country's football program.

After signing a contract through 2019 with the Chinese Football Association, reported to be worth 20 million euros ($21.9 million; 18 million) annually, Lippi said on Oct 28 that he was lured back to China by the respect he received and the possibility of helping one of the world's biggest economies make progress on the field.

Lippi confident he can help China reach its goals

Lippi guided Guangzhou Evergrande to one Asian and three domestic championship titles from 2012 to 2015.

Lippi said he has been missing China and hoped to come back since returning to Italy.

"How they appreciated and respected my work and my team appeals to me," he said.

Evergrande's victory in the 2013 AFC Champions League under Lippi is seen as a major international achievement for Chinese football since the country unveiled an ambitious plan to become a world power in the sport.

However, Lippi is facing a tough task with China's national team, ranked 84 in the world. It scored only one goal in four qualifying matches.

"My priority is to help the team qualify for Russia. If we can't reach there, then we come back to work on the fundamentals over a longer period, for the future," said Lippi, 68.

CFA Chairman Cai Zhenhua said Lippi's managerial expertise and knowledge of Chinese football will help make a difference.

"Hopefully, he can help the national team establish a technical style that fits into our conditions and advise us on how to reform the national program for fitness, logistics, player development and management," he said.

Speaking of Chinese players' individual skills, Lippi urged the squad to play more like a team to defeat Qatar in its next qualifying match on Nov 15 at home.

Tan Jianxiang, a sports sociology professor at South China Normal University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, said that money and world-class foreign coaches won't necessarily bring substantial changes to the sport in China.

"The central government has made it clear that success should be built on grassroots participation and solid development programs. If we don't have enough young players, ... the best coaches in the world can do little to make a difference," Tan said.

The most urgent task is to improve the facilities and coaching staff at the grassroots level for more children to play the game, Tan said.

The country has pledged to open 50,000 schools specializing in football education by 2025, up from 14,000 at present.

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