Lippi driven to succeed in Asia
Becoming the first coach to win the World Cup and UEFA Champions League has not allowed Marcello Lippi to develop a complacent attitude. Sitting at a press conference, the former Italy and Juventus boss hangs on each word, insisting on immediate translations from English to Italian to Mandarin.
Such is life now for Lippi, who, after 30 years coaching in his homeland, decided on a move which shocked many. The 65-year-old last year travelled to China to join Asian giants Guangzhou Evergrande in a deal reportedly worth €30 million for two-and-a-half years.
Linguistic challenges aside, Lippi has enjoyed a smooth transition east. His Guangzhou outfit boast superstars Dario Conca and Lucas Barrios - two of the highest paid players in the world, let alone Asia - who have helped guide the team to a string of on-field successes.
In Australia for their AFC Champions League clash with A-League side the Central Coast Mariners, Lippi reflected on his first 12 months in China. Indeed, Wednesday will mark one year to the day since Lippi took over the helm at Guangzhou, and his first coaching job outside Italy has thus far been worth the gamble.
"It's been a very, very positive experience [in China]," Lippi said. "I've been met with great passion, and great determination of the people. I moved to China with seven of my technical staff, including physiotherapists and doctors. So, until now it's been a great experience.
"Obviously we won last year's championship, we also won the China Cup. This year we're in first position [in the Chinese Super League] and we're still going in this year's Champions League. So we hope to carry on that positive experience as much as we can."
These are decisive remarks. Make no mistake, Lippi has not simply ventured to Asia for an easy pay day. His drive to succeed remains strong and, as he prepares his team for the knockout phase of the AFC Champions League, the Italian insists Guangzhou cannot afford to relax on the Central Coast of New South Wales.
"Australia is a very civilised and beautiful country. I'm not the only one who wants to lie on the beach, but the players want to as well. However, we're not here for a holiday, we are here to win, that is our main aim.
"I notice that the Central Coast Mariners have won the Australian championship this year. I've seen a couple of their videos of their Champions League matches, and also of the championship here in Australia. I have also noticed that they're a very organised team, they're very physical, so we'll see what happens."
It's a familiar mindset for the players who work under Lippi, not much has changed in that regard. Indeed, the 2006 World Cup champion is as dedicated to the details as ever, contacting one of his former players, Alessandro Del Piero, to dish up the dirt on his A-League rivals.
"I'm often in contact with Alessandro Del Piero, and obviously we have talked about his new career here in Australia and also about the team [Central Coast]," Lippi explained.
"He has confirmed the things that I have seen on video; that they are a very physical and organised team, full of enthusiasm and we know they will put all effort into the game."
His influence extends off the pitch, too. His opposite number for the round of 16 tie is Graham Arnold, who was assistant to Guus Hiddink in Australia's last-gasp World Cup defeat to eventual champions Italy seven years ago.
Arnold was quick to highlight the impact Lippi has had on football in China, and also believes Asia generally must make the most of having one of the world's premier coaches in its midst.
"To see the level that he has got this team playing at, Chinese football should eventually do the wise thing by getting him to be the national team coach because they are playing at a totally different level structurally and discipline-wise than the other Chinese teams that I've seen over the last few years.
"They have a great squad. It's a big club and it attracts big players and a massive coach.
"When you look at what he's doing with this team - that's why I mentioned about him becoming Chinese national team coach - the Chinese haven't made a World Cup for a long time and they've underachieved. But he's a fantastic coach.
"For what he's done in world football he's known all over the world for his success not only at the 2006 World Cup but also with Juventus. It's a great privilege to have this man on the Coast and coming out to Australia in a meaningful competition," Arnold remarked.
After claiming almost every accolade possible for a coach, Lippi yearns for success in Asia's biggest club competition. To do so, his side will first have to overcome a plucky, well-organised Central Coast side, who will press to restrict space for the likes of Conca and Barrios.
But, after achieving the World Cup-UEFA Champions League double, it would be a brave man to back against Marcello Lippi getting what he wants.