Legendary Chinese volleyball coach Lang Ping received a hero's welcome during a press conference to announce her signing with club side Guangdong Hengda yesterday in Guangzhou.
However, the woman who led China and the United States to Olympic silver medals said it would be a challenge to take over a job from scratch.
"I'm starting to work from zero. It's a challenge," said Lang, who officially inked a five-year deal yesterday with Hengda, a newcomer to the nation's second division league. "We now have a team without enough players so lots of things still hang in the balance," Lang said.
Lang Ping (right) and her daughter, Bai Lang. Zhong Ti
"But it's also a good experience for me. In my past coaching career I didn't have to help set up a team. I joined an established team and focused on coaching. But here everything is new and I have to decide what kind of players we need."
Lang, who reportedly has an annual income of 5 million yuan ($732,000), said she has been asked by the club to stay as long as possible to lift the ambitious outfit to the top-flight league.
"I did not intend to coach after my stint in Turkey. But I am moved by the club's sincerity," said Lang, who recently said she wanted to take a long break with her family after finishing her contract with a Turkish league club in April.
"They (Hengda) showed to me they are taking the club and the sport seriously. They told me they want to do something for the game."
Lang also admitted she had a good personal relationship with the club's boss, Xu Jiayin, who was a loyal fan during Lang's playing days and has invested 40 million yuan (5.85 million) in the new team.
"I knew before I came that it's China's first club owned by a company. They reached out to me and asked me to help them. It's not just for the club but also for the marketing of the league that I am doing this," Lang said.
Known as the "Iron Hammer" during her playing career with the Chinese team in the 1980s, Lang helped the country win four titles including a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, a World Championship crown in 1982 and two World Cups in 1981 and 1985.
She then turned her talents to coaching after retiring from the court.
Her last coaching position at home was from 1995 to 1998 when she led the Chinese women's team to an Olympic silver medal in Atlanta and a second-place finish at the Worlds in Japan in 1998. Lang also worked with the US women's team from 2005-08 and helped that team win silver at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Also boasting glittering club coaching experiences in Italy and Turkey, Lang admitted overseas leagues in Italy, Russia, Japan, Korea and even Turkey are now professional and attract some of the best players from around the world.
Lang said she and the Guangdong club will try to play a role as pioneers to increase the sport's market value here.
"Our league needs some changes. We have to become free marketing and professional. Free transfers and imported stars from overseas will rapidly develop the league."
Looking to take the club into the top flight and challenge the best teams like Jiangsu, Tianjin and Shanghai, Lang is likely to use her name to tempt 2004 Olympic winning team veterans such as Feng Kun, Zhao Ruirui, Yang Hao and Zhou Suhong to join the fold.
All are about 30 and remain competitive.
Asked if she was willing to join Lang's team, Zhao, a formidable spiker at her peak, said she longed for the chance. "To become a player under coach Lang is a dream for every women's volleyball player and I am no exception," she said.
Lang's international status could also lure international talent.
"I hope I can use my influence to have more overseas players join the club," said Lang.
(China Daily August 13, 2009)