Fabio Cannavaro will make his debut as China national team manager tonight when the team takes on Thailand in the opening match of the China Cup. As the successor to Marcello Lippi, a manager whose won almost everything in football but failed to get China into a World Cup, the pressure will be intense.
For many, Cannavaro’s appointment comes as a shock. The Italian’s managerial experience is almost entirely limited to his time in China and he’s far and away the least experienced foreign manager China has had in many decades.
His managerial career got off to a rough start, with Guangzhou Evergrande getting rid of him after only three months and Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr also abruptly dumping him. Cannavaro ended up with Tianjin Quanjian (now Tianhai) and deserves a lot of credit for getting them to climb the table and win promotion to the CSL. The next season he continued his success in the top flight, leading them to a third place finish and qualification for the Asian Champions League, before leaving for another stint at Evergrande. Despite his success at Quanjian, the team often struggled more than they should have considering the amount of quality and money put into the team.
Las season, he’ll go down for being the manager who broke Evergrande’s streak of eight straight league titles and who has yet to add to the club’s large trophy case. Again, his struggles left many to question why Evergrande brought him back and if he was the right person for the job.
Now Cannavaro is stepping up to an even bigger stage while still dealing with his duties as Evergrande manager. The current 23 man squad features 11 players who Cannavaro has previously managed and it seems that his familiarity with the Evergrande and Tianhai players was the key factor in him getting the gig.
China needs to go through a generational shift, with a number of the current players who are over 30 stepping aside for the (slightly) younger generation and unfortunately I can’t see that happening with Cannavaro.
With this in mind, China’s new manager needed to be someone who will seriously work at getting the players to move up to the next level and especially getting the most out of the younger talent.
Cannavaro’s lack of experience, his struggles as a manager, and his lack of authority with the CFA makes it appear he’s just a plant for the “powers that be” in Chinese football to implement their own strategy with little interference from a strong, experienced foreign manager who isn’t willing to “play ball”.
The CFA has worryingly become more secretive than ever before, having failed to make a number of recent decisions public or doing so at the very last minute. It’s hard to see Cannavaro being allowed to overrule them and potentially even having considerable input into the squad he’s given to manage.
As much as I want to be optimistic about the national team’s future, this is just one more development that leaves me wondering about the direction China is going in.
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