World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi was unveiled as the new coach of Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande on Thursday, in the latest sign of the Super League's growing financial clout.
The 64-year-old, who boasts excellent credentials after lifting the Champions League with Juventus and guiding his native Italy to World Cup glory in 2006, is the highest-profile coach to make the lucrative move to China.
The deal also confirms the soaring ambitions of Guangzhou, who last year made Argentina's Dario Conca one of the world's richest players when they snapped him up and then went on to take the nation's Super League title.
"In accordance with the strategic needs of the club... the following decision was made: to hire Mr Marcello Lippi as the head coach of Guangzhou Evergrande," the club in China's southern industrial city said in a statement.
"The period of hiring is two years and six months," it added, without giving details about the Italian's salary. The Gazzetta dello Sport reported it was likely to be 10 million euros ($13 million) a year.
The silver-haired Lippi will take charge for the first time on Sunday, at home against bottom-placed Qingdao Jonoon, the newspaper said.
He has not worked since leaving the post of Italian coach following the national side's ignominious performance in 2010, when they became the first defending champions to exit at the group stage.
The Guangzhou Evergrande announcement follows persistent media rumours about Lippi's highly anticipated move and comes despite manager Lee Jang-Soo this week taking the team into the AFC Champions League knock-out rounds.
The club said Lee, a South Korean, would step down as head coach, but it was unclear whether he would stay on in another capacity.
Speaking at a press conference from Guangzhou that was broadcast live on Chinese state television, Lippi -- who also won several Serie A titles -- said he was first contacted by the club in May last year.
"I dispatched an assistant to go see the club's matches, which made me even more determined. I am very enthusiastic about coming to China," he said.
Football clubs in China have recently gone on a spending spree for foreign imports they hope will help raise the success of their teams, after the sport's reputation in the country was badly damaged by a match-fixing scandal.
In December, Shanghai Shenhua snapped up ex-Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka and they also signed France's Jean Tigana as head coach, but soon terminated his contract after a dismal start to the season.
In its statement, Guangzhou Evergrande thanked former coach Lee for his services and said the decision to let him go had been amicable.
Lee led Guangzhou back to China's top flight and claimed last year's Super League title after the club had been relegated over the corruption scandal, in which some officials remain before the courts.
But he became embroiled in a public row with Conca after the Argentine strongly criticised his substitution in this month's 3-1 Champions League defeat to South Korea's Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
Conca was fined and given a nine-match ban -- which was then embarrassingly lifted for this week's Champions League game against Thailand's Buriram United. He scored a last-gasp penalty to secure victory and a place in the last 16.
According to the official Xinhua news agency, Lee announced his departure at Bangkok airport after Guangzhou's 2-1 win over Buriram on Tuesday. On their return to China, some players were in tears.
"I will no longer be your coach after we return to Guangzhou. You are all professional players, you should continue working hard in your future career," Lee, 55, was reported as saying.
Fans held up banners saying, "Don't go!", and, "Guangzhou thank you!", as defender Zhang Linpeng paid tribute to the South Korean coach.
"Together, we have gone through good days and bad days. We have achieved so many glories. You are the best coach. I will never forget you," Zhang reportedly said.
Online, Chinese fans broadly welcomed Lippi's appointment, but some expressed amazement that he would come to the Asian nation.
"To be a coach in Chinese football? Lippi clearly wants to shatter his reputation," one wrote.
Others expressed reservations about the timing of Lee's departure.
"The top brass at Guangzhou Evergrande should listen to fans -- Lippi is outstanding, but he still needs a break-in period with the team," one fan wrote on Sina's popular microblog.
"They must be prudent after qualifying for the AFC knock-out stages, otherwise the team will fail when they were so near success."