Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao FC may have had their season dealt a catastrophic early blow with the news that head coach Fabio Cannavaro has been handed a 10-month jail term, pending an appeal, by the Italian courts.
According to the Guardian, the Italian World Cup winner was caught swimming in the pool of one of his properties despite its having been seized by the Italian authorities as part of an investigation into alleged tax evasion. It is suspected that Cannavaro’s company, Fd Service, owes over 1 million Euro in unpaid taxes, in addition to assets valued at almost €1million which were seizd by officials in Naples last year.
His wife, Daniela Arenoso, and brother Paolo were also sentenced to time behind bars, pending an appeal.
The news emerged last Wednesday as Evergrande played out a 1-0 AFC Champions League victory over FC Seoul. Citing the Guardian story, Sina Sports said: ‘On February 25, Evergrande edged out FC Seoul 1-0 at home in a thrilling AFC Champions League first round tie.
“However, Cannavaro’s troubles were not only limited to how best to deploy his starting line-up … Cannavaro has been sentenced to 10 months in jail, but still has the right to appeal, during which he will not be required to spend time in prison.’
The Chinese media outlet also stressed that Cannavaro will be allowed to remain in charge of the current Super League champions throughout his appeal, before citing the similar case of former Japan head coach Javier Aguirre, who led Japan to the quarter-finals of the recent AFC Asian Cup despite being embroiled in match-fixing allegations relating to his time as manager of Real Zaragoza.
Aguirre was dismissed from his post on February 3 following the investigation’s positive outcome. Evergrande’s official website is notably yet to release a statement regarding Cannavaro’s sentence.
However, one man who has confirmed his future lies away from the club is popular director of football Marcello Lippi, with Evergrande today indicating that he will be terminating his contract at the end of the month.
A statement on the club’s official website read: ‘Due to health and family reasons, Mr. Lippi has today requested the club to terminate his contract early. After careful consideration with the board of directors, we have decided to accept Mr. Lippi’s offer of resignation.
‘After negotiations between both parties, it has been decided that from March 1, 2015, Mr. Lippi will be relieved of his duties at Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao F.C.’
The statement went on to thank Lippi for ‘maintaining a happy and co-operative relationship with the club [and] devoting himself to becoming a formidably strong and immensely popular Asian Champion with tremendous fighting spirit.’ Lippi won the Chinese Super League with Evergrande for three consecutive years between 2012 and 2014, as well as the Chinese FA Cup in 2012 and the AFC Champions League in 2013.
‘Mr. Lippi is a truly world-class coach as well as a tactician of the highest order. In addition to bringing championships and glory to Guangzhou, he has also made a huge contribution as a promoter of Chinese football. Mr. Lippi is also an utterly charming gentleman and an ambassador for football beloved by Chinese fans. He will forever be a friend of the millions of Chinese who follow football,’ the statement concluded.
At present, the revelations about the club’s Italian duo seem much more likely to be a spectacularly untimely coincidence than anything sinister. Lippi, 66, originally retired from club coaching last November, declaring himself ‘too old’, following a 32-year managerial career which witnessed him oversee Juventus’ rise to European and world domination in 1996, Italy’s World Cup glory in 2006, and finally Evergrande’s evolution into a continental Asian powerhouse.
The Guangzhou club’s website is currently bedecked with the message ‘Grazie Marcello!’ while the announcement of Lippi’s departure has already attracted hundreds of likes and comments on the club’s official Weibo account.
Cannavaro, Lippi’s successor in a day-to-day managerial role, has been at Evergrande less than four months. Depending on the outcome of Cannavaro’s appeal, there remains the very real possibility that the Champions could kick off their league season on March 9 without a head coach.
Were that to happen, it is likely that one of Cannavaro’s three assistant coaches would step in: either Narciso Pezzotti, Massimiliano Maddaloni, or highly-regarded former Chinese international Li Tie.
Of the three, only Maddaloni has prior first-team management experience, having sporadically taken charge of Serie B side Carpi during the 2011/12 season.