qHow have things changed at Al Wasl since the arrival of Diego Maradona?
For the past few months, all eyes and ears have been on Al Wasl. Due to the presence of Diego Maradona, there has been a lot of attention from media all over the world. There has been a lot of pressure on the players and the technical staff, led by Maradona. There have been a lot of requests for interviews with Diego and members of the team.
The performance of the team, particularly the Emirati players, has not been very impressive. Could the club have done more on that side, giving Maradona better tools to work with?
Besides Majed Naser and Darwish Ahmed, we have other Emirati players who, I believe, have worked hard and I really appreciate their efforts. Players like Rashid Essa, Ahmed Mahmoud, the goalkeeper; Saud Khalifa, Mubarak Hassan, Waheed Ismail, those are all very good players.
So I believe we have good players and we are keen to get more. But the lack of quality players in the market is an obstacle. The quality players at the other clubs have long-term contracts and it is very difficult to get them. The players that we are considering have contracts till the end of the season with their clubs, or even till the end of next season.
Some clubs want to hold on to their players and are not willing to consider even a loan proposal. But we will try to boost the squad for next year with at least two or three new local players and try to develop the Under 19s as well.
Wasl have not brought in any top foreign players either, a star to match the reputation of their coach. Maradona has talked about budget constraints. What are your thoughts on that?
I do not completely agree with this. Maradona chose his players according to his needs, not on the basis of their salaries. Maradona was very adamant in getting the players he asked for and the player was chosen even before the club started negotiating or had an idea about their price.
Every player that Maradona asked for, the club successfully negotiated a deal with him and brought him on board. So as far as the budgets are concerned, we do not agree with his statement. Actually, the players Wasl offered before the start of the season are more expensive than the players Maradona chose.
For example,Ibrahima Toure [the former Ajman striker, who has moved to Monaco] was one of the players we wanted to bring aboard. We started negotiating with him a long time ago, when he came here as part of the Sepahan team to play Al Jazira. Unfortunately, when we put his name forward to Maradona, the coach did not go for him.
What has been the impact of Maradona's arrival on the financial and marketing side?
If we look at the income just from fan attendance, we have reached Dh600,000. I believe this is the largest figure in the UAE. The target, considering that this season was going to be exceptional, was Dh1 million, but due to the team's lack of performance in the last few weeks, that number has decreased.
But it is still 60 per cent of our target was and that's pretty good. It's an increase by 100 per cent on last year, when we did not make more than Dh300,000 from fan attendance. We have just reached the halfway stage of the league and we have already crossed Dh600,000. On the marketing side, the club has been able to generate a profit of Dh10m so far. As far as the return on investments made by the club is concerned, the amount generated is Dh17m. So the total from marketing and investment side of the business is Dh27m so far, in the first half of the season.
But there has been no real big deal, the kind that people expected with the arrival of Maradona.
First, we would like to say there was nothing like this in the past. There was no benchmark for us to see whether we are successful or not. So we are starting from scratch. Second, usually when there is a promotional deal, there are three parties involved: the party that approaches the club or we approach, the Al Wasl Football Company and, in our case, Mr Diego Maradona himself.
In most of the negotiations or offers that came forth, there was never really an offer that stood out, one that would fit the reputation of Maradona. And we talk about the values of those offers here. Of course, we did not expect this. We expected a lot more interest and higher numbers because of the returns these companies are going to get because of Maradona's global appeal. This shows that the market, especially the private sector, is not aware about how much benefit they can get from sports.
Wasl have been fined a few times this season because of Maradona's criticism of officials and the fans' behaviour. What are your thoughts on that?
These fines and penalties are quite annoying. Of course, we denounce any disrespect shown towards any visiting fans or referees and officials. But at the same time, you cannot come out with penalties for everything that happens. We always hear about the league talking about increasing the number of fans at the matches, but then they come out with these rules which are opposite to what they are trying to achieve. The decisions taken are usually very quick and you feel there is no give or take, or an attempt to understand what is going on. Football is a very exciting game with a lot of passions involved and you have to take this into consideration. I believe the rules and regulations should be revisited and we would also ask our fans to adhere to the rules and be a matter of pride for the club.
What is your opinion on the refereeing this season? There has been some confusion over the rules and regulations as well.
I personally would like to advise the PLC (Pro League Committee) to review and revise the rules and regulations and get them ready for next season. They have got enough time if they start now. We could look at the best practises in the other leagues and that would help us in devising our own.
As far as refereeing is concerned, we need to consider one very important point: they all have their day jobs and other obligations, so we cannot blame them. They are only humans and it is tough for them. We have talked to Maradona about this. He himself was surprised earlier about how some of the players are employees and students. It's the same thing when it comes to the referees.
The referees committee needs to take this into consideration and work on solving this problem before we judge their abilities. Some clubs have asked for foreign referees to officiate in the league here. I don't see any problem with it if it is a very important match, a decisive game.
At the beginning of the season, there were six Emirati players brought in and we have seen six foreign players at the club in this period. How do you evaluate the performance of these players?
At the beginning of the season, there were six local players brought in and we have seen six foreign players at the club in this period. How do you evaluate the performance of these players?
It was very difficult finding the right, talented skilled players. It’s not an easy task, especially in a short period of time. So any chances we got with a potential player, we took it. There are certain factors involved when you bring in a player. One of them is the investment part, where you think a player is going to give you returns over a longer period. Some of them are brought in on a one-season trial and some others on loan.
As far as the investment of players is concerned, I am very happy with Mubarak Hassan, Ahmed Mahmoud and Fahad Hadeed, who is probably one of the most exceptional players on the local scene right now. Ali Rabea did not get a chance and he was loaned out to Emirates, but he will definitely be brought back for the next season. Injuries played a role in keeping Fahad Masood, Hassan Ali and Abdullah Abdulrahman away from the team. We have seen a lot of potential from the members of the younger team, players like Khalifa Abdullah and Khalifa Abdulrahman.
As far as the foreign players are concerned, we are seeking to extend Mariano Donda’s contract for next year. He has put in an exceptional performance and is one of the most gifted players we have. As far as Edson Puch is concerned, he was quite unlucky. No one can deny he is a very talented player and deserves the tag of “Chilean Magician”. Unfortunately, this was his first professional experience outside his country and it was probably a bit overwhelming for him, affecting his performance. This happens at time with certain players.
The club received four offers for his services. The lowest offer came from the team he grew up with, Deportes Iquique, in his hometown. They offered to cover his salary for the next six months. Puch wanted to go back to this club and we have agreed. The club have also put in an offer for next season and we are studying it.
As far as Richard Porta is concerned, there are offers from some local teams here. We will look into the rules and regulations and if this allows us, we will loan him to a local club if he agrees as well. If not, we will terminate the contract through mutual agreement between the two parties. Mohammed Al Shaibah is on loan [at Al Wahda], but there have been some offers from a few Gulf clubs. We will look into that and decide accordingly.