Lippi begins long goodbye with Guangzhou Evergrande
Guangzhou Evergrande coach Marcello Lippi and team captain Zheng Zhi at a press conference in Marrakesh on December 20, 2013 - by Eric Feferberg
The World Cup-winning manager guided Guangzhou to an epochal victory in last year's competition, on top of his two Chinese league titles and one FA Cup since joining in 2012.
Deep-pocketed Guangzhou saw off FC Seoul in the two-legged Asian final to be crowned worthy winners and end China's 23-year wait for the continental title.
However, influential Argentine playmaker Dario Conca announced his departure shortly afterwards and last week, news broke that Lippi won't stay on after his contract expires this year.
Club president Liu Yongzhuo said the 65-year-old, who has not given details about his decision, had resisted attempts to persuade him to stay because he was "tired".
"We expressed our wish in December last year to extend his contract, but he did not give us the nod," Liu Yongzhuo told a press conference, according to state news agency Xinhua.
"We had an extremely long season in 2013. Our team started training in January and didn't finish our obligation until four days before Christmas. So it was very stressful for the head coach," he added.
Local media have linked Lippi with the Chinese national team, who will learn in early March whether they have qualified for next year's Asian Cup in Australia.
He has hired attacking midfielder and Italy international Alessandro Diamanti, 30, from Bologna to fill the void left by Conca at the hub of Guangzhou's feared attack.
Guangzhou will begin their Group G campaign at home on Wednesday against Australia's Melbourne Victory, who came through qualifying.
In Group F, Beijing Guoan have strengthened by hiring Argentine Pablo Batalla from Turkey's Bursaspor and fellow midfielder Ha Dae-Sung from pool rivals and 2013 runners-up FC Seoul.
FC Seoul, narrow losers to Guangzhou in last year's final, will also have to cope with the loss of prolific Montenegrin striker Dejan Damjanovic to China's Jiangsu Sainty.
Australia's Western Sydney Wanderers will make their debut in Group H, with Saudi Arabia's Al Fateh the only other newcomers.
Both Qatar's Al Sadd and Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea will play their first Champions League games this week since winning the competition, in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
Al Sadd will play Sepahan, whom they beat in the 2011 quarters after the Iranian side had a 1-0 first leg win erased and replaced with a 3-0 loss for fielding an ineligible player.
According to new Asian Football Confederation (AFC) rules, teams from West and East Asia will not meet until the two-legged final scheduled for late October and early November.
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