SINGAPORE- Marcello Lippi will hope to sign off by retaining the AFC Champions League title with Guangzhou Evergrande after breaking fans’ hearts by confirming he’ll leave at the end of the season.
The World Cup-winning manager guided Guangzhou to an epochal victory in last year’s competition, on top of his two Chinese league titles and one FA Cup since joining in 2012.
Deep-pocketed Guangzhou saw off FC Seoul in the two-legged Asian final to be crowned worthy winners and end China’s 23-year wait for the continental title.
However, influential Argentine playmaker Dario Conca announced his departure shortly afterwards and last week, news broke that Lippi won’t stay on after his contract expires this year.
Club president Liu Yongzhuo said the 65-year-old, who has not given details about his decision, had resisted attempts to persuade him to stay because he was “tired”.
“We expressed our wish in December last year to extend his contract, but he did not give us the nod,” Liu Yongzhuo told a press conference, according to state news agency Xinhua.
“We had an extremely long season in 2013. Our team started training in January and didn’t finish our obligation until four days before Christmas. So it was very stressful for the head coach,” he added.
Local media have linked Lippi with the Chinese national team, who will learn in early March whether they have qualified for next year’s Asian Cup in Australia.
He has hired attacking midfielder and Italy international Alessandro Diamanti, 30, from Bologna to fill the void left by Conca at the hub of Guangzhou’s feared attack.
Guangzhou will begin their Group G campaign at home on Wednesday against Australia’s Melbourne Victory, who came through qualifying.