Marcello Lippi has urged his China team and the nation to pull together to accomplish the “improbable” task of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup before he begins a thorough overhaul of the struggling football program. The Chinese Football Association formally unveiled Lippi as head coach of China’s Dragons, currently No. 84 in the world rankings, at a news conference on Friday.
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Chinese media reports say Lippi’s three-year contract is worth 20 million euros ($21.8 million) annually and makes him the highest paid national team coach in the world.
“I believe the players are all skillful and have no need to feel inferior or envy toward players of other countries, because they can reach the same level,” Lippi, who is best known for his time coaching Italy and Juventus, told reporters. “What they need is a sense of responsibility, mission and belief.”
Securing Lippi’s services means China will be led by a manager with World Cup-winning experience. But it’s unlikely China will even qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Gao Hongbo quit as head coach after the 2-0 loss to Uzbekistan earlier this month left China with just one point from four games in Asia’s last round of World Cup qualifying.
Lippi, who has worked in China since 2012, acknowledged that he faces an uphill struggle. The team has qualified for the tournament only once, when the tournament was co-hosted by South Korea and Japan in 2002, but was bounced out of the group stages without scoring a goal.
“In the qualification stages, our chances are not great, but what we need to do is pull together _ the entire squad, the CFA, logistics, medical team _ and maximize our chances and accomplish this improbable mission,” Lippi said. “After that, we can consider our long-term issues.”
Lippi is already familiar with Chinese football at the club level and has had management success in China. He led Guangzhou Evergrande to domestic titles and, most notably, the Asian Champions League trophy in 2013.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, a big fan of the game, has made improving Chinese football from the grassroots all the way to the international level a priority of his administration, saying football could boost children’s physical education as well as national pride.