Yao Ming could take charge of Chinese football following Cai Zhenhua exit, say reports
Cai Zhenhua’s departure could open door for ex-NBA star to become chairman of Chinese Football Association, following success in same role for basketball
Once the most powerful sports official in China, Cai Zhenhua now finds himself on the sidelines and who will succeed him is anyone’s guess.
On Tuesday, the former table tennis world champion appeared at the opening ceremony of the “Sixth China Labour Skills Championships” in Zhengzhou, in his new capacity as “All China Federation of Trade Unions Party Committee Member”.
Although Cai’s name can still be found on the General Administration of Sport website as the deputy director, it is believed he has been removed from sports to take charge of trade union affairs.
He has not been involved in any activity with the China Asian Games squad since late August.
With his new role, Cai is unlikely to keep his three other major titles in Chinese sports – chairman of the Chinese Football Association, Table Tennis Association and Badminton Association.
The 57-year-old has been the major driving force behind the recent reform of Chinese soccer, having been placed in charge in 2010 as part of his responsibilities for China’s de facto sports ministry.
Cai was then elected Chinese Football Association chairman in 2014, while he has been the head of badminton and table tennis since 2009.
Suggestions over who could replace Cai on the football front have centred around several retired players. But since most of them do not have any experience as an official, retired NBA star Yao Ming is also said to be in the mix, according to reports in Sina Sports.
Yao has already taken charge of basketball in China, having been elected chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association last year.
The appointment paid immediate dividends as China won both the men’s and women’s titles at the 2018 Asian Games. They did the same double in front of home fans at the Guangzhou Games in 2010.
With Cai’s departure, the position of national football team manager is also under scrutiny.
Since his arrival in Chinese football, Cai has brought a number of overseas coaches to take charge of the national team.
Spaniard Jose Antonio Camacho was first appointed in 2011, followed by Frenchman Alain Perrin after the departure of Camacho in 2013.
Perrin had a disappointing spell in charge, quitting midway through the 2018 World Cup qualification campaign.
Marcello Lippi of Italy took charge in 2016 to finish off the campaign, but China were not able to make it to Russia 2018.
Lippi’s contract is set to run out after the completion of the 2019 Asian Cup finals in the United Arab Emirates early next year.
Reports in the mainland said the Italian will lose a strong supporter in the power hierarchy as Cai is no longer in charge of the sport.
China’s performance in the regional cup competition will therefore be a key factor in whether Lippi will keep his job.