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Chinese Football Association should stop papering over the cracks and replace Marcello Lippi with a young mainlander

Italian manager is highly-respected but China must focus on development of their own coaches if they are serious about winning a World Cup

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2018, 11:36am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2018, 8:16pm

China manager Marcello Lippi might not be known as that for much longer if results such as Thursday night’s 6-0 loss to Wales continue.

The World Cup-winning Italian has been in the job for 18 months and has so far been judged as a success, of sorts, in keeping the country’s dreams of Russia 2018 alive a lot longer than anyone expected.

The view on social media suggested fans thought China would have had a chance of making it if the 69-year-old had been in charge for the whole qualifying campaign rather than taking over from Gao Hongbo midway through.

The Wales result aside, Lippi is respected as a coach in China. He comes from a country with a strong football history, something which he contributed to as a player and manager, capped with guiding them to victory at the 2006 World Cup.

Lippi’s glittering résumé, accumulated over many years, is another reason he is held in such esteem in a country that prizes success and respects experience.

He also embodies what might be a potentially huge problem for Chinese football as the country seeks to turn itself into one capable of winning the World Cup.

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There is a severe lack of quality Chinese managers for the national team to call on and no country has ever won the World Cup with a foreigner in charge – and it’s the same story for the European Championships.

So if China want to win the biggest prize in the game, it stands to reason they need a Chinese head coach.

If they were looking to replace Lippi tomorrow, there are not many options. After Ma Lin was sacked by Dalian Yifang last week, the number of local bosses in the Chinese Super League dropped to three. The arrival of former Real Madrid manager Bernd Schuster as Ma’s replacement raised the number of German bosses to three, the same as the number of Portuguese bosses.

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The Portuguese contingent highlight another thing that hamstrings the Chinese game: instability. All three of the Portuguese managers arrived in their roles in the close season as part of the CSL’s annual managerial purge where the vast majority of the teams changed the man in the dugout.

Ma was one of those new appointments. He replaced Ramon Lopes Caro at newly-promoted Dalian Yifang at the end of December. Just three games into the new season and Ma became the first managerial casualty of 2018.

Lopes Caro was another one of the many former Real Madrid managers that have found their way into Chinese football. Two of the last three Dalian Yifang bosses have been from European football’s most decorated club, Lopes Caro and Schuster sandwiching Lin’s three months, three games and three losses.

The German arrives having spent the last four years out of management since he left Malaga in 2014. It was a similar story when Felix Magath was appointed at Shandong Luneng in the 2016 season after a couple of years away from the dugout since leaving English second-tier side Fulham.

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Spanish daily newspaper Marca reported the list for replacing Ma included former France manager Laurent Blanc, World Cup winner and recently departed Guangzhou Evergrande gaffer Felipe Scolari and former Real Madrid and Chinese national team man Jose Camacho.

There were also rumours new Dalian Yifang owner Wang Jianlin’s wish list was actually topped by another former Real Madrid boss in Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho and the man he is chasing in the English Premier League, Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola.

That’s no surprise in the ambitious world of Chinese football. European coaches, particularly those with silverware on their résumé, are held in the highest esteem.

That puts a premium on experienced managers and it creates a situation where former England national team boss Sven Goran Eriksson has managed three Chinese clubs and was also linked to the China job before Lippi replaced Gao Hongbo.

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In a world where the ideal manager is believed to be old and foreign, Li Xiaopeng at Shandong Luneng is the rarest of exceptions.

He’s Chinese and young, aged just 42. Perhaps Li can become the first Chinese manager to win the title since 2009, when Hong Yuanshou guided Beijing Gouan to the CSL.

He was only appointed three quarters of the way into the season. He was also sacked midway through the following campaign. That’s almost a decade without a local manager having the experience of winning.

That’s something that needs to change but it won’t in the current climate.

Maybe it’s time for the Chinese Football Association to look at limiting the number of foreign coaches and promoting youth, as they have done with players.

Clubs can keep their big names but make them directors of football who oversee the Chinese manager and coach them.

For the good of the game, China needs to be no country for old men.