SHANGHAI • The search is now on for another big name to take on the poisoned chalice that is the Chinese national football coaching position, after a livid Marcello Lippi ended his reign following their humiliating exit at the Asian Cup.
The World Cup-winning coach stepped down after Thursday's 3-0 quarter-final loss to Iran, with the Italian making known his displeasure at the nature of the defeat.
Slamming their wretched defending, he said: "You cannot afford to give a team like Iran three goals. You just can't legislate for that kind of thing. I really wish it didn't have to end on such a gloomy note."
Lippi, who was reportedly among the world's best-paid coaches, took over the reins in October 2016, but won only 12 of his 31 games, underlining the task facing him.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, a known football fan, has vowed to make the country of 1.4 billion people a competitive force with resources being thrown at the grassroots level. But they remain in the doldrums, having reached the World Cup only once, in 2002.
The gulf between 29th-ranked Iran and China, in 76th, was yet more glaring evidence that Chinese fans, who regularly criticise the team as "an embarrassment", had to temper their expectations due to the paucity of quality players.
There was, however, sympathy for the departed Lippi, who thrice won the Chinese Super League title with Guangzhou Evergrande.
In an online poll immediately after he quit, about 75 per cent of supporters expressed satisfaction with his tenure, even though he failed to steer them to last year's World Cup.
The hashtag #feelsorryforLippi was trending on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, reflecting the fondness many still hold for the 2006 World Cup winner with the Azzurri.
He also received backing from Iran counterpart Carlos Queiroz, who called Lippi "one of the best coaches in football history".
The Portuguese, whose side will play Japan in the Cup semi-finals on Monday, said: "The work that he did was fantastic. China made a great evolution under Lippi."
As for his successor, the Chinese Football Association appears committed to hiring foreign expertise, and it is likely to turn to another renowned coach.
One name China may consider is Sven-Goran Eriksson, who had coached three Chinese clubs from 2013-2017 and whose "short-term engagement" as the Philippines' coach ended yesterday.
The Swede took the post only in October, but Philippine Football Federation general secretary Edwin Gastanes said he was still "available for consultation".
Yesterday, joint favourites South Korea were shocked 1-0 by 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, with Abdulaziz Hatem settling their quarter-final tie with a long-range strike.