Thank you for your reading and interest in the news On this day, May 15, 2011: Diego Maradona named manager of Dubai side Al Wasl and now with details
Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - “Sorry, come again?”At the time, it felt the stock response, when on this day nine years ago, UAE football was carried beyond its borders and across the world.
Typically, the news prompted heads to shake in disbelief. Often it preceded, “Where did that come from?”
It came, much to everyone’s surprise, from Al Wasl.
"Al Wasl Sports Club is proud to announce the appointment of Diego Armando Maradona as head coach of Al Wasl Football Club,” read a rightfully grandiose club statement… “in a momentous development that will see the football legend lead the team for the next two seasons.”
Diego Armando Maradona? Al Wasl?
But it was true. The 1986 World Cup winner with Argentina, Fifa’s joint-player of the century, considered by many the most gifted footballer to have existed, had agreed to manage a Dubai club that sat fourth in the UAE Pro League.
The previous summer, Maradona had managed his country at the World Cup in South Africa. His side included Juan Sebastian Veron, Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero ... and Lionel Messi.
Now he was replacing Sergio Farias in the Wasl dugout.
“Al Wasl Sports Club has become synonymous with achievements of this calibre,” said the then-club chairman, even if that sounded a little fanciful still.
“We are very pleased to be welcoming Maradona to a long line of accolades in the club’s history.”
Boasting his own lengthy stream of honours, Maradona had been in Dubai that weekend to agree on a deal, although it would be nearly a full month until he signed it.
He met officials, toured the club’s facilities. Afterwards, he went for wander around Dubai Mall. In what seems standard Maradona fare, it transpired that he had touched down in the Emirates via the Chechen Republic.
From that point on, Wasl's profile skyrocketed. With the rise came the rumour.
Almost immediately, his new employers had to deny they'd made Maradona the second-highest paid manager in the world.
The estimates were hugely exaggerated, numbering between $10 million (Dh36.7m) and $35m. If the lower end of the scale was to be believed, only Jose Mourinho earned more, at Real Madrid.
No matter the figures involved, Maradona was comfortably the most prominent name to parachute into UAE football.
Abedi Pele had once represented Al Ain. For a while, George Weah wore Al Jazira white and black. If Fabio Cannavaro had lit the Pro League fuse by joining Al Ahli the previous summer, with Maradona its reach exploded.
For most, it didn’t matter that his coaching career was sketchy, at best. Wasl, seven-time UAE champions, had thought big and delivered. Conceivably, they’d completed the greatest coup in the league's history.
Maradona was formally and finally – his introduction was postponed, even at one stage rumoured to be off – presented as Wasl manager in June.
At a press conference in the appropriately lavish Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel, more than 100 media representatives turned out. The conference began well past an hour late. It was translated into three languages. Maradona lived up to his billing. He laughed off speculation regarding his exorbitant salary, vowed to give his all to the cause, and promised Wasl would not be “a graveyard for white elephants”. He found time to lampoon Sepp Blatter and the “dinosaurs” at Fifa.
It was merely a sign of things to come. At his first post-match press conference, a sizeable posse of Argentine fans stormed the interview room at Jazira to applaud him. It didn’t matter that Wasl had lost 4-3.
Later that month, Maradona kicked a supporter’s hand during a match at the Zabeel Stadium, later claiming he was attempting simply to unfurl a banner to read it. He quickly apologised.
Repeatedly, Maradona called publicly for reinforcements to his squad. He questioned if players were getting paid on time.
He had a spat with Cosmin Olaroiu, his counterpart at Al Ain. As the row continued into the campaign, eventually Maradona was hit with a Football Association fine.
In the press, he often ridiculed old rival Pele. He demanded Quique Sanchez Flores, the Al Ahli manager, to be suspended for his part in a post-match incident in which Wasl goalkeeper Majed Naser had slapped the Spaniard.
At Al Shabab, that same March, Maradona climbed into the stands to confront those he claimed were abusing his wife and guests. Soon after, he threatened to walk from Wasl, but then backtracked.
He led the club to a disappointing eighth in the table, and later lost the GCC Champions League final.
In an ill-tempered second-leg in Dubai, his side threw away a 3-1 first-leg advantage to succumb on penalties. Wasl concluded the match with nine men.
Then, exactly one month later, on July 10, 2012, Maradona was dismissed. His reign had been wild in places, but eminently watchable. It survived 422 days.
Updated: May 15, 2020 08:11 AM
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