World Cup-winning manager Marcello Lippi is reportedly on the verge of returning to China as a coach, this time as head of the national team rather than the big-spending club where he spent three years.
China Football Association official Huang Shiwei on Thursday confirmed the selection process to replace Goa Hongbo was ongoing, but declined to give any details except to say that an announcement was expected by Nov. 1.
Italian media reports suggested the 68-year-old Lippi, a former Juventus manager who guided Italy to the 2006 World Cup title, would sign a lucrative deal next week to take over a Chinese team that is struggling in Asian qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
Gao stepped down as head coach after a 2-0 loss in Uzbekistan last week, leaving China with one point from four qualifying matches and with little hope of making it to Russia in 2018.
Lippi was head coach at Guangzhou Evergrande from 2012-14, guiding the southern China club to three domestic titles and an Asian Champions League crown.
After standing down as Evergrande manager, Lippi said he’d retired from coaching. But he changed his mind earlier this year when he said “after many months at home I realized I miss the field.”
China is mobilizing under President Xi Jinping’s drive to overhaul the game domestically and turn the Chinese team into a World Cup winner by 2050.
Despite massive investment from the private and public sector — the government is also focusing on youth development — the standard of the national team has not kept pace with the improvement on the domestic league, which is luring star players in record-breaking transfers and coaches from around the world.
China is hosting Qatar next month in its last World Cup qualifier of the year, and there are five more qualifiers in 2017, starting in March.
China’s only appearance at the World Cup was in 2002, when it failed to score a goal in the tournament that was co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.