x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Diego Maradona's mind already made up on leaving Al Wasl

The Argentine has made threats in the past, but this time his demeanour was completely different. There was no anger or frustration in his voice.

Al Wasl's Head Coach Diego Maradona has threatened to leave the club.
Al Wasl's Head Coach Diego Maradona has threatened to leave the club.

The Diego Maradona era in the Pro League, it seems, could be coming to a close.

The Argentine is in the first year of his two-year contract with Al Wasl but he made it clear on Tuesday night that he is not willing to continue unless the club's management meet his conditions on signing the players he says they had "promised".

Maradona has made those threats and demands in the past, but this time his demeanour was completely different. There was no anger or frustration in his voice. The 51 year old was cool and composed, giving the impression that he has probably decided what he wants to do.

"I am used to being the best and I live to compete," he said.

The joint Fifa Player of the Century, however, has not been able to attain the high standards he has set for himself at Wasl.

His team are in sixth place in the Pro League, 18 points behind the leaders Al Ain, with little hope of finishing among the top four, which was one of Maradona's stated goals at the start of the season.

In the President's Cup, the Panthers could not progress beyond the second round in which they were beaten a 3-2 by Al Wahda, while their Etisalat Cup campaign came to a controversial end in the semi-final at Al Ahli, with Majed Nasser, the goalkeeper, getting a 17-match ban for slapping Quique Sanchez Flores, the opposing coach, after the game.

Wasl have played 31 matches in the three domestic competitions this season. They have won 14 and lost 13, and Maradona blames the team's poor performance on the management.

He claims they reneged on the promises made to him at the start, with the club signing only two of the six players the manager wanted.

"I need the players I have asked for to be able to compete and if I can't compete then there is no reason to continue," he said before adding: "If the reason for not getting these players is the lack of budget, then leaving the club would be easier because that way they can use the fund in something that might be appropriate."

The Wasl management, however, disputes those claims. Speaking to the media earlier in the season, Marwan bin Bayat, the club's chairman, said they had provided Maradona with every player he asked for and the budget had never been an issue.

He also said some of the players offered to the coach, and rejected by him, were more expensive than the ones signed.

Whatever the truth, Wasl have not looked the team that many envisioned when the club announced their sensational deal with Maradona in May last year.

Still, his presence in the dugout brought thousands of fans to the stadiums.

Even that, however, did not prove to be a positive for the team as the misbehaviour of some fans means Wasl will have played six of their 11 Pro League home matches at neutral venues by the end of the season because of the sanctions imposed by the FA's Disciplinary Committee.

Those decisions have not gone down well with Maradona and it will weigh on his mind as he contemplates his future at Wasl, but the biggest consideration for him is his grandson Benjamin.

"My decision on staying or leaving will depend on the passion and love I have for my grandson," he said.

"I would love to spend more time with him, wake up and have the chance of playing with him whenever I want."

Managing a club in this country will definitely not afford him that luxury and Maradona could be considering a job with a national team, or even retirement from the sport.

The Football Association have already expressed their interest in his services and this could be the perfect time to make a move.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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