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LIPPI EXCLUSIVE: Big name coaches transforming Chinese football & my role in Nainggolan on-off deal

At the second attempt, the Chinese Super League (CSL) are getting it right, laying the foundations for future sustained success.

That's according to Italian agent, Davide Lippi, who says the decision by the CSL to focus more on importing experienced, big name coaches ahead of marquee players, is now paying dividends.

And Lippi should know. He's the son of former Juventus and Italy coach Marcello Lippi. Lippi Snr is now in charge of the Chinese national team, taking the job after leading Guangzhou Evergrande to five trophies in just two years.

"Chinese football has grown a lot, they are doing the right things," Lippi tells Tribalfootball.com. "Of course it is true, they've made heavy investment, but it is no guarantee to achieve positive results. They are working for the good of Chinese football.

"I remember the League in years past, they took top players like Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, but is was not enough: two great players can't make an entire football system grow. They realised, and it was smart on their part, that in order to make a league grow it is necessary to bring the best coaches."

Lippi, who through his father is now regularly active in the Chinese transfer market, name-checks some of the biggest identities in the game now working in the CSL.

"To build a team, they need the best coaches, not one or two top players. They have to grow tactically. Which they're now doing with heavy investment in football managers over the last period: Felix Magath, Fabio Capello, Paulo Sousa, Marcello Lippi, Manuel Pellegrini, Luiz Felipe Scolari... if you bring the best managers, your football system grows and the entertainment is better.

"Chinese managers can grow too, learning from these top class coaches."

Lippi believes other developing leagues can take a leaf out of the CSL's book - particularly the USA and their MLS. The impact of their 'marquee' player approach appearing to have stalled since the days of David Beckham at LA Galaxy.

"There are different regulations, it is a different league," he continues. "Anyway, now MLS is growing too, thanks to the arrival of big managers like Tata Martino. To make a football system grow, you need to bring the best instructors.

"You can bring Andrea Pirlo and David Villa, hopefully the first one makes two assists for the second, who scores twice, but if the defence let the opponents score three times, you lose the match. In China, they understood that they couldn't make their football grow on their own. So, they brought the best coaches, who have enhanced this football system over the last 5-6 years.

"The technical and tactical level of the Chinese League has grown, it has improved."

Lippi also insists the decision by the Chinese government to crack down on CSL splashing out staggering sums on big name players is the right move. Football authorities are seeking to accelerate player development and Lippi believes flooding CSL squads with imports was working against local talent.

"Now their aim is to develop Chinese footballers, so the government put special boundaries to stop the waste of money. For me, these boundaries are intelligent. For example: taxes on bigger salaries; clubs can't buy more than four foreign players; if a club spends more than €6m the cost is duplicated and the tax goes into a fund, which is used to enhance Chinese football; for every foreign player on the roster, clubs have to name an U23 player as a starter. This is the next step."

Along with boosting local player development, Lippi also says the regulations have led to the unexpected bonus of CSL clubs strengthening eachother's finances.

He explained: "Obviously, those big transfers will be ever more difficult, the Chinese transfer market at the moment is congested. Why does a club have to spend €40m for a €20m player? At that point, they insist on those players that they have already bought. Government directives are: do not send Chinese money to different leagues and countries."

And Lippi reveals his hand in a local deal at the expense of Roma and their Belgium international midfielder, Radja Nainggolan. The agent convincing Guangzhou Evergrande to drop their pursuit - and the money involved - to splash out a significant sum on a local CSL import.

He explained: "This year, for example, Guangzhou followed my advice and bought Nemanja Gudelj, a Serbia international, who was already playing in China. They could have spent €50m for Nainggolan, but my directive was: buy another strong player who plays in the Chinese League. That didn't use to happen before. I like and respect a lot the way they are working for the good of their local market."

Lippi is convinced the foundations now being put in place are paying off. Despite China's failure to qualify for this year's World Cup in Russia, there's optimism around the next generation of players coming through the CSL, where clubs are now dominating Asian competition.

He says: "They are creating a forward-looking football system. Now, for the first time, Chinese football is followed all over the world, there are many foreign players who want to go to China, stadiums are full and the general level is growing.

"The future of this football system depends on the growth of the younger players, who in 2025 will be members of the national team. The Chinese national team will be a power in 2030. Chinese football teams are achieving great results in the AFC Champions League.

"Even the national team didn't reach the World Cup due to just one point."

Which everyone connected to Chinese football are determined to never see happen again.

Matteo Vitale
About the author

Matteo Vitale

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