x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

A point for Maradona

Diego Maradona can raise eyebrows with his antics, but his concerns over the UAE Pro League and a lack of professionalism by some of his players cannot be ignored.

The emotion echoed his career as, arguably, the greatest football player of all time. As Diego Maradona recorded his first win as Al Wasl coach in his team's opening league fixture, after four defeats in the Etisalat Cup, he surprised many with his celebrations - not least his players, who were the recipients of enthusiastic hugs and kisses.

But the Argentine remains far from happy.

The jury may still be out on Maradona's record as a coach following Argentina's disappointing showing at last year's World Cup and Al Wasl's inconsistent start. But his concerns over the UAE Pro League in general, and some of his players in particular, cannot be ignored.

Many of the Emirati players remain part-time employees, affecting their attendance at training and level of commitment. And while most are to be commended for their hard work at other jobs and in university, the only way to raise player standards across the league, and improve the faltering national team, is to employ more full-time professional athletes.

The influence of foreign players and staff will help the teams in the league, but even here coaches are limited in their role. In many cases, there is a self-defeating culture of chopping and changing coaches after a few bad results.

The Pro League has to look at the long game to improve the sport in the UAE. If Maradona's enthusiasm can help it to do so, so much the better.