x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Reputation on the line for Maradona next Pro League season

Could Maradona have done better if he had the players of his choosing? That would be conjecture.

Diego Maradona said he was not on vacation but did not have good days in office either.
Diego Maradona said he was not on vacation but did not have good days in office either.

Few UAE football seasons, if any, have garnered as much attention as the campaign that has just finished. With Diego Maradona here, there was an almost a daily mention of the league and the Argentine legend around the globe.

The presence of Asamoah Gyan at Al Ain brought as much interest and changed perceptions with a young, proven goalscorer, one coveted by some of Europe's top clubs, choosing the UAE as his new home.

The Pro League clubs have emerged as a viable destination of choice for rising stars seeking new challenges rather than ageing players looking for one last pay cheque.

These two superstars were expected to be the biggest attractions when the season got underway in September last year. And they were, but for different reasons.

As expected, the Argentine made more headlines for his bust-ups, threats to quit and the poor performance of his team, while the other did the job he was hired for, scoring 22 goals in 18 Pro League matches as his team landed the title with three rounds to spare.

All through the season, Maradona was left wishing he had a player like Gyan, or the likes of Hilal Saeed and Omar Abdulrehman, on his roster.

He kept expressing his dismay over the lack of quality in his squad, threatening to quit if the Al Wasl management did not support him with new players, who would allow him to compete for the titles.

Last June, at his unveiling, Maradona had made it clear he was not in the UAE for a holiday, but to compete and to pass on his vast experience to the next generation of the country's footballers.

But it did not take him long to realise he was a workman without the right tools.

Mariano Donda emerged as the only player he could consistently depend on, but towards the end of the season, the Argentine playmaker seemed exhausted from the workload he had been carrying. Juan Manuel Olivera worked hard, but failed to live up to expectations, finishing sixth on the goalscoring list with the same number of goals (11) as Modibo Diarra scored in half a season at Emirates.

To add to Maradona's woes, Majed Naser, his goalkeeper and best Emirati player, was given a 17-match ban after losing his cool following the defeat to Al Ahli in an Etisalat Cup semi-final.

Could Maradona have done better if he had the players of his choosing?

That would be conjecture and critics regularly point to his performance as the boss of a star-studded Argentina, one of the favourites to win the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The next season could then be crucial to Maradona's reputation as a coach.

He has indicated he is staying on to honour his two-year deal with Wasl and if that happens, it could be another exciting season. But it is not going to get any easier for the legend.

Al Nasr have retained the services of Walter Zenga and given the Italian's work at the Dubai club over the past season and a half, his team could be challenging for the league title after finishing second this time around.

Paulo Bonamigo will continue his good work at Al Shabab and Ahli are trying to convince Quique Sanchez Flores to stay on.

The Red Knights, with an array of stars such as Grafite, Luis Jimenez and Ahmed Khalil, were expected to do better this season, but after finishing with five successive league wins, they will be the team to watch, especially if their Spanish coach agrees to the extension offer.

And then there is Cosmin Olaroiu and his team of champions. What are Maradona and Wasl's chances then? With a couple of Gyans, a few Abdulrehmans and Saeeds, they could be in the reckoning.