DUBAI // Diego Maradona believes UAE clubs are ready to compete with the best sides in Asia, even if the national team have a vast amount of improving to do if they are ever to reach another World Cup.
The former Argentina captain and coach, who is now in charge of Al Wasl, is the most famous name among a raft of stars who have moved to UAE football in recent months.
Asamoah Gyan, the Ghana striker, is the most recent arrival. He left Sunderland, the English Premier League side, at the weekend to join Al Ain, the only UAE club to have won the Asian Champions League, the continent's top competition, to date.
Lucas Neill, the Australia defender, has joined Al Jazira, the league champions who will likely be the most competitive of the three UAE clubs who are assured a place in this season's Champions League, the other two being Baniyas and Al Shabab.
Baniyas have also recruited David Trezeguet, the French World Cup-winning striker, to spearhead their title and Champions League challenge.
With Fabio Cannavaro, the former Italy captain, still serving Al Ahli, albeit it in an ambassadorial rather than playing role, there is now more stardust in UAE football then ever before.
Maradona is sure the UAE's top clubs will benefit from the influx, saying the big-name players are here to work, not sunbathe.
"I think we have a good chance of competing against strong teams in Asia," the Al Wasl coach said.
"There are players here now who, in the past, might not have been confident of coming to the UAE, either because it was too far or because they didn't feel like it.
"Now we have players like David Trezeguet, who had offers to go to other clubs.
"As the years go by people in Asia will realise there are tough contenders here in the UAE.
"We did not come here just to sunbathe in Dubai - you can do that anywhere in the world. We came here to work.
"I want to teach them everything I have learnt in 35 years in the business.
"I am here to put myself at the service of every player in the Al Wasl team."
The outlook for the national team is bleak, however. The UAE lost their opening two World Cup qualifiers against supposedly inferior opposition, costing Srecko Katanec his job as coach.
Maradona said he is committed to his role with Al Wasl, rather than assisting the national team, and he said Abdulla Misfir, the new coach, has his work cut out to turn around the UAE's fortunes.
"When you watch them play, you don't feel very confident," Maradona said.
"Of course, I wish the best to the coach, and I wish the best to the UAE national team.
"But when you start losing matches like the ones they did [to Kuwait and Lebanon], I think we are faced with a team who has to improve a lot if they want to reach the World Cup finals."