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Italian football legend Fabio Cannavaro is stepping down as manager of Chinese giants Guangzhou FC, the club announced Tuesday, as it faces an uncertain future with its owner Evergrande Group on the brink of collapse.
Cannavaro's departure had already been widely rumoured after he failed to guide Guangzhou FC to a ninth Chinese Super League (CSL) crown last season.
But the troubles at Evergrande Group, whose potential demise has shaken world financial markets, may well have forced the issue with questions now swirling around the fate of the team.
A statement on the club's Weibo account said that "after friendly negotiations, Guangzhou Evergrande has decided to terminate Fabio Cannavaro's contract".
"We whole-heartedly thank Fabio Cannavaro for his huge efforts and positive contribution to the club, and wish him all the best for the future!" the statement added.
The writing was already on the wall for the 48-year-old Cannavaro, who returned to Guangzhou in 2017 for a second stint, after being dismissed following a failed spell at the club in 2014-15.
He coached the side to the league title in 2019, but last season ended without silverware.
Soon after, the club said it was changing its management structure in a way that appeared to leave Cannavaro with little power.
Chinese media have speculated previously that a stumbling block to sacking Cannavaro outright was compensation. The 2006 World Cup-winning captain reportedly has two years left on his 12-million-euro-a-year deal.
Uncertainty at the most successful club in recent CSL history adds to turmoil in Chinese football and shines a further spotlight on the precarious finances undergirding the sport in the country.
A perennial football underachiever, China has in recent years entertained dreams of some day hosting and winning a World Cup.
But these dreams took a hit earlier this year when Jiangsu FC folded just months after wrapping up their first championship due to financial problems at the club's backer, retail-based conglomerate Suning.
Severe Covid-19 restrictions have put a dampener on CSL play, with teams confined for the past two seasons to playing in just two cities and with fan interaction curtailed.
Authorities have also cracked down on high salaries that previously lured many top foreign players.
A number of big-name foreigners have left since the end of last season, including Brazilians Hulk, Alex Teixeira and Paulinho, and Italians Graziano Pelle and Stephan El Shaarawy.
The league still features some star power in Oscar, Marouane Fellaini and Mousa Dembele -- but there have been no big-name arrivals for some time.
Football authorities also upset fans by mandating that starting with the 2021 season, the league's 16 teams must drop the corporate part of their names and instead adopt more "neutral" names. Guangzhou Evergrande FC became Guangzhou FC, and other clubs have similarly re-branded.
Guangzhou FC's fate remains unclear. Unconfirmed reports have circulated saying that discussions are under way that could see a government entity and state-owned company taking it over.