He started his professional playing career at Savona in 1969, before moving on to play for Sampdoria for nine years between 1970 and 1979. He retired at Pistoia in the early 1980s.
After hanging up his boots, he began his managerial career at a youth level with Sampdoria, before moving up to senior level with Pontedera, Siena, Pistoiese and Carrarese. He got his first chance in Serie A in 1989/90 with Cesena. He spent two seasons with the Bianconeri before switching to Lucchese, Atalanta and Napoli, where he clinched qualification for the UEFA cup at the end of the 1993/94 season.
That achievement resulted in a job offer from Juventus, which gave him the opportunity to win everything in the subsequent five years: three league titles, one Italian Cup, two Italian Super Cups, the 1996 edition of the Champions League, one European Super Cup and one FIFA Club World Cup. After a short spell at Inter, during the summer of 2001, Lippi went back to Juventus to win a further two league titles and two Italian Super Cups. His side also finished as runners-up in the 2003 Champions League, losing the final on penalties against AC Milan.
Lippi was made Italy head coach on 16th July 2004, succeeding Giovanni Trapattoni. Within two years, Lippi won the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany making the Azzurri world champions for the fourth time in their history. He then left Italy for two years and was re-appointed on 26th June 2008 after UEFA EURO 2008. During his second spell with the Azzurri, he took his team on an unbeaten run of 31 games, a record he shares with former Spain coach Javier Clemente and former Argentina manager Alfio Basile. He left Italy for good after the disappointing 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign in South Africa. His record with the Azzurri includes 28 wins, 21 draws and seven defeats in 56 games.
He was appointed manager of Guangzhou Evergrande on 17th May 2012: In the following years he won three Chinese League titles, one Chinese Cup and one Asian Champions League. After a brief spell as technical director of the club, he decided to bring to an end his experience in China on February 2015.
Since Autumn 2016, Marcello Lippi has been the coach of the Chinese National Team.