Football: Proud Li Tie says coaching China national team 'a very important dream'

Li Tie was in the team that played in the 2002 World Cup, and his appointment as China's football coach is a popular one with fans.
Li Tie was in the team that played in the 2002 World Cup, and his appointment as China's football coach is a popular one with fans.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - Former Everton midfielder Li Tie said on Sunday that he has realised a childhood dream by becoming coach of China.

The 42-year-old, who succeeds Italian World Cup winner Marcello Lippi, also revealed that his initial contract is only until the middle of this year.

Li was named to the top job in Chinese football on Thursday, tasked with reviving their hopes of reaching the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

Li, once an assistant to Lippi, said in his first press conference: "It took me 35 years, from a child who can't play football, to today becoming the head coach of the Chinese national team.

"I'm really very happy. I can say very proudly to my children, 'Your dad realised a very important dream'."

Chinese President Xi Jinping wants the world's most populous country to host and even one day win the World Cup.

But first, Li must rescue China's 2022 qualifying hopes after Lippi's abrupt resignation following a 2-1 defeat to Syria in November.

China lie second in Asian qualifying Group A, eight points behind Syria.

Only the top team in each group automatically goes through to the next stage.

Li, whose first match in charge will be a March qualifier home to the Maldives, said: "My contract with the Chinese Football Association (CFA) is until June 9, 2020.

"If we qualify for the next stage of the qualifiers, then my contract will be automatically extended to the next stage... of the qualifiers."

 
 

He was in the team that played in the 2002 World Cup, China's only appearance at football's biggest event, and his appointment is a popular one with Chinese football fans.

"Even if the national team had signed me for a one-day contract, I would not hesitate," he said.

"When you have the opportunity to work for your country, you really don't need to think about it or hesitate."

Li is already familiar with the national coaching set-up having been in temporary charge during the East Asian championships in South Korea last month.

Li, who made 40 appearances for Everton after joining in 2002, said that he will continue to use naturalised players for China, a trend that started last year under Lippi and looks likely to gather pace.

But he warned: "They will have to compete to earn their way into the squad.

"I treat all players in an impartial way, I don't care if they are naturalised players, old players or young players."

He took Wuhan Zall to sixth in the Chinese Super League last season and was one of three Chinese coaches interviewed by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) to follow Lippi.

The CFA said that employing a local coach was a change of strategy after looking to foreigners for much of the past decade.

China are 76th in the Fifa world rankings, sandwiched between Bolivia and Uganda.