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Maradona, (Idle?) Rumors and Iraq

December 21st, 2012 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Fifa, Football, Maradona, soccer, UAE, World Cup

This was a story that developed overnight. Or perhaps it is more correct to describe it as “speculation that morphed into quasi-news” overnight.

This out of Argentina: The Iraqi Football Association was about to hire Diego Maradona as coach of its national team, which remains in contention for a 2014 World Cup berth.

This out of Iraq: The FA there has no interest in Maradona.

We here in the UAE/Dubai/Abu Dhabi remain interested in the movements of El Diego because he is still hanging out in these precincts, and despite having lost, in July, his job as coach of the Dubai side Al Wasl, he apparently is making a nice income as a sort of glorified “greeter”.

So, will he stay or will he go?

First, a bit more about Maradona, post-Wasl. He works for, and perhaps gets paid by, the Dubai Sports Council to be a honorary sports ambassador for said body.

So far, this seems mostly to entail his appearance at sports events staged in Dubai, generally near the end of the event, sometimes to present trophies — as for the beach soccer tournament held a couple of months ago. Or in the case of the Dubai Sevens rugby tournament, beforehand, such as when he hung around with the Argentina women’s team.

It’s a version of being a greeter at a Las Vegas or Atlantic City casino, except that casinos do not exist in the UAE.

Wasl signed Maradona for two years and a batch of money. How much, we have never discovered. Early reports of the deal being worth a total of $10 million (or even $34 million) were denied by the club, and when he was introduced by the club in June of 2011 he laughed at suggestions he was getting $10 million over two years.

“We are very far away from the numbers you have mentioned,” he said, when asked about his salary. “I don’t play football anymore, I am a coach. The people who make the money are the players. We make much less money.”

It was one of those moments when you say, “Hmm … he’s right.”

Still, he no doubt was getting a nice package, but when Wasl did nothing of note on his watch, winning no trophies and spectacularly failing to win a second-level competition in his last game with the club, he was a dead man walking and was fired a few weeks later.

What has never been clear is how much Wasl still owed him for that second season he did not coach.

Josef Hickersberger, former coach of the Abu Dhabi side Al Wahda, once told me that coaches here often do not get guaranteed contracts, and when they are dismissed (and they often are after a very short time), the money stops almost immediately.

Perhaps El Diego could have negotiated a guaranteed contract with Wasl, given his fame.

The club was at pains to suggest he was worth the money, as was noted by our reporter Ahmed Rizvi in this interview with the club chairman, so perhaps he did get guaranteed money.

That presented a short-term problem for Wasl, having to pay a coach for not coaching, but that seemed as if it might have been alleviated when the honorary sports ambassador gig with the Dubai Sports Council popped up.

Perhaps the DSC picked up all of the second year of the Wasl deal. Or some of it?

Back to Iraq. If the Iraqis want to hire Maradona — and they told the Associated Press today that they do not — presumably they will have to come close to matching what he is currently getting in Dubai to show up at the odd sports event and smile.

Iraq’s FA may not have that kind of cash lying about. They have had a tough 10 years there, as you may have heard.

On the other hand, Iraq is a couple of victories from making the 2014 World Cup, which has happened only once before, in 1986. They are in a three-way tie for second in Group B of the final qualifying phase, in Asia, and the top two go directly to the World Cup. And the third-place side goes into a playoff with the Group A third-place side for the right to have a playoff with a team from another continent for a berth to Brazil.

The stakes, then, are large.

Then we get to El Diego’s coaching record. His club record is miserable. His time as the coach of Argentina’s national team led to the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals (where Germany nuked the Argentines 4-0), but some would suggest that a cardboard cutout of a manager could get the current generation of Argentina stars into the final eight of a World Cup. Consider: Messi, Aguero, Mascherano, Zabaleta, Higuain …

So, now we wait to see where this goes. The latest out of Argentina, where the same source now says Sven-Goran Ericksson is also under consideration. Does that source know anything about anything?

As long as it is Diego, it will be news of a sort.


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