Beijing - Chinese football fans and media heaped praise on Italy's World Cup winning-coach Marcello Lippi Friday, after he resigned from Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande following three trophy-laden years.
Evergrande, one of Asia's richest clubs, have taken the last four Chinese Super League titles, three of them under Lippi, and won the Asian Champions League in 2013.
Lippi had already stepped aside as team coach in November, to be replaced by Fabio Cannavaro, his captain for the 2006 World Cup triumph in Germany, but stayed on as technical director.
Evergrande said in a statement that the 66-year-old had asked to end his contract early for "health and family reasons", and the club had agreed.
It praised him as "a great tactician, a gentleman and a huge contributor to Chinese soccer."
"A gentleman with a great personality, Lippi is also a football messenger and a beloved friend to hundreds of millions of Chinese fans," it said.
Lippi said it would be his last club job and he was "going back home for a break", but added he was still enjoying management and if he was offered a national team coach position he would consider it.
China's official news agency Xinhua cited sources close to the Italian saying that he was waiting for opportunities to take charge of a team which could qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Xinhua said he was leaving an "everlasting legacy to Chinese soccer", saying he put the sport -- which has long been troubled by bribery scandals and a woeful national team -- in "close touch with the advanced tactics and training, the effective way to nurture young talents, and the progressive management of a club".
Chinese fans on Friday thanked him for his efforts in the country. "The 'Silver Fox' has left us, but he left Chinese football fans many good memories. Grazie Marcello," wrote one poster on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo.
Another added: "Thanks for the hope you brought to China's football industry."
Lippi has enjoyed an incredible career which has also taken in five Italian Serie A titles and a UEFA Champions League. He is one of the world's highest-paid managers, earning an estimated $11 million in the 2012-13 season, according to France Football magazine.
His departure leaves Evergrande in the tricky position of having a rookie manager at the helm as they launch the defence of their Chinese league title and try to win a second AFC Champions League.
Former world player of the year Cannavaro, in his first management job, has only taken charge of two games so far -- a Super Cup defeat and this week's win over FC Seoul in the Asian club champions' competition.