DUBAI // Diego Maradona's appointment as Al Wasl coach has attracted criticism as well as praise, with some sceptics describing it as a publicity stunt.
Having worked alongside the Argentine legend for the past few days, Ali Hassan, the new Wasl assistant coach, yesterday vouched for Maradona's sincerity.
"We have been hearing a few things in the media recently about Maradona's appointment," said Hassan, who has been a part of the Wasl family since joining the club's academy at the age of six.
"Some people say there are more commercial and marketing reasons to it than footballing. I don't think that is true and it has become even clearer to me since I started working with him.
"I have seen the enthusiasm Maradona has for this job. For the past three-four days, we have been meeting every day. Our meetings start at 11am and go on until 3am the next morning. So you are talking about 13-14-hour meetings, of course, with a few breaks here and there.
"Maradona is adamant that he has come here to work and not for the financial or marketing side of it. He is really keen to win all the competitions next season, and so am I."
Hassan won two league titles with Wasl as a player, in 1992 and 1997, and was in charge of the club's B team before joining Maradona's core coaching staff. He also won the 1993 UAE Cup with Wasl and was part of UAE's Under 17 team at the 1991 World Cup and the Olympic squads that failed to qualify for the 1992 Games.
"I will do everything in my power to be of added value for the greater good of the team," Hassan said. "Maradona is one of the greatest legends of football and having this chance to be a part of the technical team with him is a golden opportunity for me and I want to take full advantage of this."
Having one of the biggest names in world football at the helm, Hassan said, means that the other teams in the league will go all out when they face Wasl.
"The challenge for next year is that all the teams in the league, even the ones who have just got promoted, will have one major objective: to beat Al Wasl," he said. "Of course, every team will be competing for the title as well, but they will be very keen to say they have beaten Maradona's team.
"This is an extra challenge for us. We will not just be competing for the championships, we will also be trying not to lose any matches. Every game will be important for us and every game will be a tough one."
Having finished in sixth place last season, the Wasl squad will reassemble from July 15 for medical tests before starting their pre-season camp on August 1 in the Emirates, an unusual move for a UAE club as they usually travel overseas to escape the heat.
"When the league starts towards the end of September, it is still very hot here," Hassan said. "I believe that is one of the reasons why Maradona decided to have the camp here. He took the weather and the month of Ramadan into consideration before making the decision.
"During Ramadan, we will have one training session a day. That's about 30 training sessions.
"Before the league starts, we will have 10 days of intensive training, twice a day. That makes it 50 training sessions, which I believe is sufficient time to get ready for the new season."