By Peter Davis
World Cup, UEFA Champions League, Serie A and soon perhaps AFC Champions League winning coach, Marcello Lippi is two legs from writing himself into China’s club football history books with Guangzhou Evergrande.
Already confirming their third, Lippi’s second, 2013 Chinese Super League with four games to spare, Evergrande are undeniably China’s dominant force. Speaking with Goal’s Peter Davis via his translator Gian Matteo Mannering, Lippi explains his achievements in China and the recipe for success in Canton.
“I would put them [his accomplishments in China] in first place along with my other tournament victories, they all bring a great sense of satisfaction and sweet accomplishment,” he said.
“Above and beyond all these [achievements] is obviously the World Cup of 2006 but it would surely be a great pleasure for me to also win the Asian Champions League, adding to the European one.”
Victory in the AFC Champions League would be China’s first success at international club level since the 1990 Asian Club Championship win of Liaoning Whowin. After an 8-1 aggregate win over Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol in the Semi Final Evergrande head into the final first leg against F.C. Seoul of South Korea in an understandably buoyant mood.
The Canton club are also in the Chinese FA Cup semi-finals and the 65 year old Italian coach is keen on less talk and more action as the season draws to a close.
“The best way to try and obtain these [remaining trophies] is to try and win everything, never choose what to win and what not, it's not about presumption, one needs to be convinced of their [sides] strength,” he said.
Evergrande clinched their second CSL title with a 4-2 away victory over closest rivals Shandong Luneng, no easy task considering their recent signing of Vagner Love from CSKA Moscow but a victory that Lippi himself admits gave added satisfaction.
“It was nice to make it [the CSL title] decisive at their stadium in Shandong. They were our main rivals for the first half of this year's season,” he said.
Key to Evergrande’s domination of Chinese football have been a solid base of local talent with no less than 13 of Lippi’s Chinese players having call ups to the national team in the last year.
“A football team is like a cake, where the foreign players are the cherries but the strong solid base of the cake is constructed of national players,” said Lippi in a poetic overview of his squad.
Key personnel changes in 2013 have included the signing of 26 year old China international Goalkeeper Zeng Cheng who has been subject to rave reviews this season since his move from Henan Construction.
“He has been very important, a great goalkeeper who gives a sense of security for the whole team,” said Lippi when asked about Cheng’s impact.
Despite the domestic talent within the CSL champions, it is Evergrande’s foreigners that have stolen the 2013 show. Attacking trio Elkeson, Dario Conca and Muriqui have a combined 43 goals between them in the domestic league to date.
“Elkeson is a young, strong, serious and professional player. He will confirm himself at this level and have a successful career, who knows, maybe even in Europe,” Lippi said.
“The fans gave excellent support to the whole team throughout the year, without a doubt Muriqui is their idol.”
With success internationally, in Europe and now Asia, Lippi is undeniably one of the world’s greatest managers and has plenty of awards to back that up but the experienced tactician says little to suggest his passion for the game is disappearing.
“It's fantastic to create a group which works well together, has the technical and psychological characteristics to become victorious various times,” he said.
“Winning is beautiful anywhere in the world. It's amazing but extremely difficult to achieve.”
Beijing-based Peter Davis watched Liaoning Whowin play Chengdu Blades in 2008 and has been hooked on Chinese football ever since. He is a regular contributor to Wild East Football and can be found on Twitter at @peteydavis