Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

A Year Following Diego Maradona

November 27th, 2020 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Football, Maradona, Pro League, soccer, Sports Journalism, The National, UAE

It was a preposterous bit of “news” in the offices of The National newspaper, based in the United Arab Emirates.

Diego Maradona had signed a two-season contract to coach the Dubai club Al Wasl FC of the UAE Pro League.

(Sure, and Pele was going to come with him as an assistant.)

However, as that May day of 2011 went on, we on the sports staff of The National were forced to concede the preposterous was now the predestined.

Diego Armando Maradona, perhaps the greatest footballer in history, was on his way to Dubai. For two years, they said.

I am fairly convinced zero events in the short history of the UAE attracted more global attention than did the announcement of Maradona on the move there. I can just imagine soccer fans searching for a map of the world, trying to find the UAE.

We assumed he would be news, all along, but we did not anticipate just how thoroughly he was going to move to the first slot on the celebrity watch.

The two-year contract eventually became one, after he was fired by Wasl in the following summer, and it was almost welcome by the sports department — because covering Maradona was a 24/7 job.

Two days after the Argentine great died, here is a recap of his ouster from that season now long ago, and that is followed by a day-by-day summing up, below.

On July 10, 2011, the day he was fired, I wrote:

“From the day Diego Maradona was hired by Al Wasl, we began to consider the circumstances of his more-inevitable-than-usual firing.

“In our mind’s eye we saw him going out in a cataclysmic blaze of anger and hard words, unable to curb his volcanic emotions. It is a curious twist that it was his inability to instill self-control in his players that brought him down.

“An atrocious performance by Wasl in the second leg of the GCC Champions League, at the Zabeel Stadium on June 10, set off the chain of events that led, exactly one month later, to his dismissal.

“It was not a technical collapse that led to the exit, though Wasl were poor; it was the lack of discipline throughout his side that was fatal: Two red cards and players bickering with each other in full view of a national television audience and a nearly packed Zabeel Stadium.

“They had won the first leg 3-1, and the run-up to the second leg assumed a Wasl victory and Maradona’s first trophy as a club coach. It was to be a coronation for Wasl, vindication for their coach.

“But Majed Naser and Rashid Essa were sent off and Muharraq forced a shootout, and won it. The fireworks and confetti cannon Wasl had brought in for the celebration were instead shot off for the benefit of the Bahraini side.

“It was a moment of humiliation for Wasl, and many of their fans vented their anger by heaping verbal abuse on the famously intemperate Naser when he appeared on the pitch to collect a silver medal.

“Maradona did himself no favours when he said, a bit later: ‘I don’t regret anything I did this season.’ It was a tone-deaf moment when a bit of humility was badly needed.

“Last night the new club board, after hearing strong comments from club executive Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Wasl, dismissed the Argentine.

“A great player, Maradona’s bona fides as a coach remain slim. Three victories from 23 games in Argentina in the 1990s; 20 from 44 games in the UAE.

“That he inspired and drove Wasl, for a time, must be conceded. The players seemed desperate to please him, and get one of those big hugs he distributed so freely in the early months.

“He chose wisely in the acquisition of the playmaker Mariano Donda and the striker Juan Manuel Olivera. His fame seemed to intimidate referees, who indulged his many colorful rants.

Wasl reaped a level of global recognition unknown for a UAE club. His first press conference was heavily attended and translated into three languages. Wasl executives spoke of marketing coups and record hits on their website. Wasl away games were the best-attended in the league.

The hubbub eventually settled down to a dull roar, but Maradona remained a focal point; everyone in the country seemed to want their picture taken with him, and a significant fraction succeeded.

“It was unclear, however, if anyone in the side was the better for his leadership. After winning 21 points from 13 league games, Wasl imploded. They seemed physically and perhaps emotionally exhausted, especially the influential Donda, whose contempt for his Emirati teammates was plain to see in the Muharraq meltdown. Wasl won five points from its final nine league games.

“Maradona several times complained about his squad. He questioned the club’s professionalism. He threatened to leave if he was not given more money to spend in the coming season.

“Eventually, the former board called him in and, to the surprise of many, he emerged chastened and cooperative, and his serial criticisms of his players and club management all but ceased. It seemed a late-arriving moment of maturity for a 51-year-old man; he had accepted that Wasl were treating him well, and that the budget was not limitless.

“That new serenity was never transmitted to his players, however, and they fell to pieces in the game that would have brought him a second season in Dubai.

“Where does he go from here? Will another club in the region find intriguing the notion of sudden exposure? Has he done enough to warrant a job in his homeland? This much is clear: he seems to find purpose and fulfillment in coaching, even if the results are often lacking.

“He will not soon be forgotten, but Wasl may not have much trouble finding a coach who can bring them results, and not just notoriety.”

Maradona day-by-day, 2010-11

May 15, 2011: Al Wasl announce they have signed Diego Maradona to a two-year contract to coach the Dubai side. Marwan bin Beyat, the chairman says: “We are very pleased to be welcoming Maradona to a long line of accolades in the club’s history.”

May 28: Bin Beyat says the club did not talk to Maradona about his past, including drug suspensions. “I did not touch on that part of his life when we met. I think there have always been a lot of outside influences who have attacked him. I didn’t see the need.”

June 4: Maradona is introduced at a crowded press conference in Dubai, and his remarks are relayed in three languages. He says: “I want to guarantee to the people that we will win matches.” He denies reports that he will be paid Dh21 million during the season. He describes the players he wants: “The players I will bring will bring passion and will show it on the field. I will go for youth, not old players. I do not want the club to be a graveyard for white elephants.”

September 15: On the occasion of his first game as Wasl coach, 100 Argentine nationals force their way into the Al Jazira interview room to applaud Maradona. He says of Jazira’s handling:  â€œThe arrangements were very poor and it was disturbing for me.”

September 20: On his team: “Al Wasl have a great squad full of amazing players with great skills. They all have amazing ethics and ambitions.”

September 21: He dismisses a rumor that Wasl are trying to sign Nicolas Anelka but agrees the club are in the market for a new Asian player.

September 22: Kicks a fan’s hand at Zabeel Stadium and later apologizes. “I was trying to unfurl and see the whole banner and by mistake I perhaps injured him.”

September 27: A Wasl official says they may hire a team of lawyers to defend Maradona and the club from attacks. “Some recent attacks on Maradona in the media have started to affect the Argentine legend.”

September 29: He visits the grieving family of Theyab Awana, the UAE national who died in a car crash. “Football is about more than just goals and numbers; it’s about passion and compassion.” A photo shows him holding the hand of Awana Al Musabi, the dead player’s father.

October 1: After a 3-0 Etisalat Cup victory over Al Wahda, he talks about visiting Theyab Awana’s family. “I have really been moved and I just wanted to share with you some of those feelings. There are bigger things in life than football.”

October 13: It is reported he is the third-highest paid coach in the UAE, and it is revealed that he has learned one word of Arabic: “Ta’al” or “come”. Earlier, he visited the Al Noor “special needs” school.

October 15: He says Wasl suffer from “a lack or professionalism” and even with the addition of the Australian Richard Porta he says Wasl “still need reinforcements”. He shrugs off criticism, saying: “If someone doesn’t like me it doesn’t matter to me. … I have a contract here and I will complete it to the last day.”

October 20: Marwan bin Beyat, the club chairman, on the impact of Maradona: “From a business perspective it’s a feasible decision that makes absolute sense. … The name of Al Wasl has exploded on the worldwide radar. … The publicity we are getting can be compared to the largest clubs in the world.”

October 21: He describes Porta as “a world-class striker” and says concentration is the key to success. “The most important thing is to not doze off. If you do that, if you fall asleep, you end up losing.”

October 31: He says he has not given up on Edson Puch, the Chilean midfielder who has struggled. “When Puch is … 100 per cent he can create problems for any team.”

November 18: He says his players are not getting their checks on time. “We have some of the lowest-paid players in the league but they should be paid on time.” He tells critics to complain to his face. “Anyone who has any problems can feel free to come and see me and confront me.”

November 19: After a 1-0 Cup loss to Al Ain, he launches into an attack on the opposing coach, Cosmin Olaroiu, calling him “quite rude” and saying “he should learn some manners”. Olaroiu mocks Maradona for coaching in short pants. “Who is Maradona as a coach? He should respect his work and should never come to matches wearing short pants.”

November 20: While en route to see his stricken mother, Dalma Franco de Maradona, in hospital in Argentina, she dies. He returns soon after her funeral and coaches Wasl’s next match.

December 2: On the eve of a match with Shahab, he takes a shot at his old rival and co-player of the century: “It seems Pele is confused and I think he has mixed up his medications. He took the morning pill instead of his nighttime pill and that has caused him to lose focus.”

December 8: Speaking of his new feud with Cosmin Olaroiu he says: “Al Ain is a good team despite their rude coach.” Of the FA disciplinary committee he says: “They do not focus on anyone else. It is always Al Wasl. The referees are quick to take a decision against me personally and my players.”

December 9: He waves off Olaroiu’s attempt to shake hands after a match.

December 23: After a 2-2 draw with Nasr, the Nasr midfielder Adel Abdullah says of Maradona: “I am jealous of the Al Wasl players, really. They are able to shake his hand and hug him. … He is the best thing to happen to the league.”

December 28: Responding to stories suggesting he would be a candidate to coach the UAE senior national team, he says: “If I am offered the job I will accept it with pleasure.”

December 29: He is fined Dh9,000 by the FA for “verbally abusing” Cosmin Olaroiu. After a 2-1 loss to Wahda he says of his team: “There was no character …They were missing enthusiasm … It did not seem like they wanted to win. … It seems as if the team doesn’t want to achieve.”

January 5: After another loss to Dubai, one of the league’s smaller teams, he says: “We gave away the match.”

January 10: Wahda knocks Wasl out of the President’s Cup with a 3-2 victory in the quarter-finals. Maradona says: “This is quite obvious that some players are not up to par and don’t have the experience or the skill to perform in high-intensity games like the President’s Cup. I am not a magician, but I hope to make for a better squad.”

January 22: Bin Beyat, the club chairman, stresses the success of the team commercially but concedes: “There have been high hopes but unfortunately the results have not been as pleasing as we hoped.” He dismisses Maradona’s claim that the club have not brought in the players he wants. “Every player that Maradona asked for, the club successfully negotiated a deal with him and brought him on board.”

January 22: Another shot at a Pele opinion: “This is maybe due to old age affecting such comments. You can’t blame the guy; he hasn’t been doing anything for the past 20 years.”

January 22: On a report in Brazil quoting Alex Perez, a former Wasl player, saying that Maradona targeted Brazilians for dismissal: “If I ever see this guy I might punch him in the face.”

January 27: Discussing his moods he says: “My anger will always remain. I still have it deep within me; when I face a loss it still feels like the first time I lost.”

January 28: After a 3-0 loss to Dubai, he says management “have not brought in the reinforcements they were supposed to”.

January 29: An Abu Dhabi newspaper reports that the FA are considering Maradona for the job as senior national coach.

February 7: He says: “I will not accept a small budget for the next season. … If this does not happen then I will not be able to do my job … and I might be forced to send my contract back. I would like you to know this is not just a threat.”

February 8: Responding to criticism from Richard Porta, who had been released by the team, he says: “If he had something to say about anything, maybe he should have said it to my face and not have to travel 10,000 miles to Uruguay to make such statements.”

February 9: After a 1-0 victory over Baniyas: “We never get any help from the referees.”

February 16: Wasl lose 4-2 to little Ajman.

March 2: Wasl defeat Jazira to reach the Etisalat Cup semi-finals.

March 8: Explaining why he had no interest in keeping the Spanish midfielder Francisco Yeste, Wasl’s standout from the previous season and now back in the league with Baniyas: “Yeste seemed like a guy going to the supermarket, and I had no plans for that type of player.”

March 10: It is reported in Italy that Maradona owes 37.2 million euros in back taxes from his days playing for Napoli. He tells a TV station: “I’ve never been a tax evader.”

March 11: After a frustrating moment in a 1-0 loss to Al Ahli in the Etisalat Cup semi-finals, he turns a forward roll in the dugout. Moments after the match ends, the Wasl goalkeeper Majed Naser strikes Quique Sanchez Flores, the Ahli coach, from behind and appears to spit on the Ahli player Youssuf Mohammed.

March 13: He suggests that the Ahli coach Sanchez Flores incited the Wasl goalkeeper Naser, who the FA has suspended for 17 matches. “Flores made a gesture with his hand implying Majed is crazy. This is what triggered the whole issue. Quique should be suspended, too.”

March 29: He climbs into the VIP area of the stands at Al Shabab after a 2-0 loss, and several Wasl players and coaches follow him, to “protect my wife”, who he believes has been verbally abused by Shabab supporters: “We accept everything in football but do not accept men swearing at women,” he says. “They are cowards.”

April 1: Wasl officials defend Maradona’s charge into the stands. “Any such abuse is unacceptable but it is even more offensive when it offends women,” says the acting chairman Abdullah Al Bishr. Maradona is not sanctioned.

April 14: A late penalty by Al Ain forces Wasl to settle for a 2-2 draw. “They did not deserve the penalty,” he says. “The ref gifted it to them and all the hard work was spoiled by the ref’s decision.”

April 24: He reiterates that he may leave the club before the second year of his contract if the club does not respond to his call for reinforcements. “If we cannot meet as far as our thoughts are concerned, I will leave the city with mutual agreement that satisfies both parties, myself and the club. I will definitely come back to Dubai, but maybe as a tourist.”

May 2: Wasl deny reports that they are searching for a replacement for Maradona. He says his chance of returning next season are “50-50”, adding: “I am not here for a holiday. I am here to work and that is what I want to do. If I cannot do that then I ight not be able to continue.”

May 6: Maradona never gets out of seat during the first 45 minutes of a 2-0 league loss to Wahda at Al Nasr.

May 15: Majed Naser, the goalkeeper whose 17-match ban covers only domestic matches, returns in the GCC Champions League quarter-final and is outstanding in a shootout victory over Wahda.

June 1: Wasl complete a 4-2 aggregate victory over Al Khor of Qatar in the GCC Champions League semi-finals.

June 6: Wasl outscore Al Muharraq 3-1, in Bahrian, to take a commanding lead after the first leg of the GCC Champions League final.

June 10: Majed Naser, the goalkeeper, is sent off in the 10th minute of the GCC Champions League final for butting an opponent, and Rashid Essa is red-carded in the 78th, also for butting an opponent, and Al Muharraq of Bahrain shock Wasl 5-4 in a shootout, denying Maradona his last chance to win a trophy in his debut season in the UAE.

June 12: Wasl officials suggest to the FA a one-year ban for Naser.

June 14: The Wasl board resigns, as does the man who hired Maradona, the chairman Marwan bin Beyat.

June 17: The new Wasl board convenes and denies media reports that Maradona has been dismissed.

July 10: Maradona and his technical staff are dismissed by Al Wasl.


0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment