Highly respected Dutch coach Guus Hiddink looks poised to take on a leading role in China’s aggressive push to finally become a force in international soccer.
The 71-year-old was pictured this week — glasses perched on his nose and taking notes — watching China’s under-21 side beat Myanmar 1-0 at home, amid reports that he is set to be formally appointed coach to lead the team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
When confirmed by the Chinese Football Association, the former Dutch national team manager would join another well-known veteran, Italian World Cup winner Marcello Lippi, in China’s coaching setup.
Lippi, 70, has been in charge of the senior side since 2016 and overseen a steady improvement, although China still failed to reach the FIFA World Cup in Russia and languish at 75th in the FIFA rankings.
“Although the Chinese Football Association has not officially announced it, the famous coach Hiddink has begun to enter the role of head coach,” state-run Xinhua news agency said, but added that he remained in the stands during the under-21 win over Myanmar on Tuesday.
Hiddink — whose last job was a caretaker spell at Chelsea in the 2015-2016 Premier League season — met the players before the game, Soccer News said.
The Dutchman would be paid just less than 4 million euros (US$4.66 million) per year after tax, Chinese media have said.
He is being brought in as the 2020 Tokyo Games loom into view and as the Chinese government pushes an ambitious agenda to ramp up soccer from grassroots all the way to the senior team.
Like Lippi, Hiddink comes with a wealth of experience at club and international levels.
In addition to his two emergency stints at Chelsea, he also coached Real Madrid, PSV Eindhoven and Valencia, among others.
Hiddink is perhaps best known for inspiring cohosts South Korea to a shock semi-final spot at the 2002 World Cup.
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