DUBAI // Diego Maradona claims his life was like a Formula One racetrack before coming to Dubai, but living in the UAE has brought peace and calm into his existence.
The Argentine legend arrived in the country in May, 2011, shocking the world as he signed a two-year deal to coach Al Wasl. While the Dubai club made headlines around the globe for the next 12 months, the team's lack of success on the pitch forced the Wasl administration to end their association with Maradona at the end of last season.
The Fifa Player of the Century, however, stayed on in the UAE after being appointed an honorary sports ambassador of Dubai and he has no regrets about his decision.
"I have learnt a lot in Dubai and I admit it openly," Maradona said in an interview with Arabic daily Al Ittihad. "I learnt about calm and spiritual peace from the Emiratis in particular and the Arab people in general.
"My life was like Formula One in the past, going at full throttle, but I am now experiencing this wonderful tranquillity. Living here among the Arabs has changed a lot of my ideas and beliefs, and this has been a very important experience in my life."
Maradona's one-year deal with the Dubai Sports Council ends in August, but the 1986 World Cup winner hinted he would love to keep living here.
"Everything in the UAE deserves admiration, praise and appreciation," he said. "Dubai is a brilliant city and I have not regretted my decision to come here for even a second. This is a unique place in the world.
"There is a lack of knowledge about the Arabs in the Western world, many misconceptions, but through my experience in different countries of the world, I have a great respect for the Arabs."
Maradona, whose playing career came to an end after a failed drugs test at the 1994 World Cup, also spoke about his addiction. He allegedly started using cocaine in 1983, when he was playing for Barcelona, and by the time he moved to Napoli in Italy, he had become an addict.
In 2000, Maradona went into a drug-rehab plan in Cuba following a health scare while he was holidaying in Uruguay. He was rushed to an emergency room and doctors detected heart muscle damage due to "an underlying health issue".
In 2004, Maradona suffered a major myocardial infarction following a cocaine overdose and spent several days in intensive care at a Buenos Aires hospital. Three years later, he appeared on Argentine television and said he had quit drinking and had not used drugs in two and a half years.
"Drugs is something that is always going to hurt you," Maradona told Al Ittihad. "I was on the brink of death and my daughter Dalma saved me from this tragedy. If not for my two daughters [Giannina, who was married to Manchester City star Sergio Aguero, being the other], I would not be alive today."
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