x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Diego Maradona, just let sleeping dogs lie

It is no wonder Diego Maradona, the new Al Wasl head coach, hasn't gotten around to that introductory media event in Dubai.

Diego Maradona is the man in question. This would never be easy.

Had Al Wasl arranged for their next coach to be a mere mortal, a regular guy, they could have shaken hands on an agreement, held a press conference, put the contract in a drawer and moved ahead. But everything about "El Diego" is bigger and grander, more dire and more complicated.

We are following at least three threads here, and Wasl must feel as if they are being dragged into places they had no intention of visiting.

Wasl's next coach has a bitter ongoing feud with the president of the Argentina football federation, Julio Grondona. Maradona apparently is suing Grondona for making remarks the former player has construed as suggesting he indulges in substance abuse.

If the mere fact of that were not enough, his incendiary comments took it all to another level. According to the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarin, Maradona said: "This time I'm going to step on the accelerator and step on the head of whoever it might be. Everyone, even his grandchildren, will have to submit to the analyses my lawyers are going to ask for … Let everybody know and record it: I'm going after Grondona's family."

No wonder he hasn't gotten around to that introductory media event in Dubai.

The "drugs" issue. All things being equal, employers prefer not to see the new boy arguing very publicly over events some two decades old pertaining to performance-enhancing substances. Let all that fade into history, OK?

Maradona has charged that Grondona was aware of stimulants being distributed to the Argentina team ahead of a World Cup qualifying match in 1993. (To date, his teammates from that era have said they did not knowingly take "energy" drugs in their coffee, which makes the issue even cloudier.)

The subtext of Maradona's charge? The Argentina federation was behind his failed drug test at the 1994 World Cup.

A Tunisian agent alleging to be Maradona's legal representative is contesting the legitimacy of the contract with Wasl. Surely, Maradona is not the only footballer extant who may have signed some documents he should not have, but who needs this extra complication?

While their next coach is involved in charge-and-courter charge in Argentina, and this agent is threatening his own legal action, Wasl have been left to begin the business of building the 2011/12 team.

Wasl signed Edson Puch, the Chilean midfielder, earlier this month, and apparently flirted with the 2010 World Cup standout Diego Forlan as an addition via a one-year loan.

Was Maradona involved in either of those decisions? Is he a fan of either player?

And what of Francisco Yeste, Wasl's Spanish midfielder, who has been one of the half-dozen best players in the league this season? Should he figure he is leaving as, apparently, the long-serving Brazilian forward Alexandre Oliveira should do?

A danger here, for Wasl, is constructing a team and handing it over to a coach who may not be happy with the playing pieces. Al Ahli fell foul of this a year ago when they built a team without the input of the coach David O'Leary, who was soon keen to blow it up, until Ahli showed him the door.

The lesson seems to be that football personalities of a certain spectral mass, and Maradona certainly is on that select list, may not be able or willing to give a new job, on the other side of the world, their undivided attention.

Wasl must be eager to have Maradona stop sniping at Grondona, and pack his bags and come to the UAE and begin talking about next season.

He could even be involved in assembling the side; Wasl are paying him to run their team, not to settle old grudges.