x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Something to comprehend

One of the most vivid lives of the last half-century pitched up in Dubai to discuss ‘work’ yesterday. Yes, Diego Maradona pitched up to discuss work.

You might have noticed that it has been hot out, so this could be a delusion or even an outright mirage, but here it goes.

Around midday yesterday, I went into a lavish hotel convention room way out on a gigantic palm frond and sat with a horde of other people in the indoor winter before a big, big burgundy curtain.

Yeah. So after some time, and then some more time, and then some more time, this palatial curtain rustled on its far-left side, far-right from our view, and out materialised - might as well go ahead and say it - Diego Maradona.

 

Wearing clam-digger jeans shorts and black trainers with orange soles as he strode across the stage, he looked not completely unlike a tourist in line for the lift at the Burj Khalifa. Either it was him, or I should consult a physician.

Now we all know how in the last hours of the morning our eyes allegedly jiggle as we have dreams in which people turn up in places you never would have imagined them turning up, but here that scene played out in waking hours. Apparently.

Fans chanted his name from the balcony. People applauded his comments about Fifa, with his language suggesting he does not rank among Fifa's most ardent fans. Like many an expatriate, he said, "I came to work," and, "I wanted to work," and, "That's why I'm coming here, to work," and, "We are celebrating the fact that I am working now," and, "I am not going to steal from them - anyone." He sounded so earnest you almost could hear him telling that to immigration control.

In the event all of this did transpire, it marked a first stage in a mental metamorphosis. It will require time to, in the overused verbiage of the last decade, wrap the brain around this concept so bold, so otherworldly and so deliciously experimental.

There stood the apparent Maradona, entrenched part of South American topography, posing for photographs amid the Al Wasl men in their khandouras. If you called that one back last early summer when he stood on a World Cup touchline, then you need to … then you are one keen forecaster.

"The Al Wasl team is my team now." … "I believe if we work hard with a good team we can make history." … "I have already the team in my head." … "Today the Al Wasl team is my top priority, my life priority and my priority because I want to be champions."

Those words came from the dynamo who dominated Mexico 1986, the Latin American leftist, the embattled Argentina manager heading the national team in light blue, the team he once ushered to the hilt. Next to him on the dais sat the club chairman Marwan bin Beyat, applauding.

Comprehension will require time.

First with Maradona, there is always the sensation of seeing him upright and vibrant, always something of a vision while knowing that here is a man once rumoured to have died, legend holding that some media outlets with impetuous hospital sources even reported it as true. Then comes the still-budding idea of himself as manager, always looking overdressed over there simply because of his familiarity in shorts.

Now comes the realisation - as the brain attempts ingestion - that one of the most vivid lives of the last half-century, a man whose autobiography already should rate thicker than even Bill Clinton's - takes a turn way over here, across the Atlantic, across Africa, across the Arabian Peninsula, beside the Arabian Gulf. Suspending disbelief becomes a gradual process.

That gradualness speaks to Al Wasl's splashy feat here, to the bigness of its why-not adventure in the why-not country.

As time elapsed, Maradona continued speaking, the translators turning his Spanish to Arabic on one channel and to English on another. He does not want elderly players ready for one final photo opportunity before retirement. He does not want a "graveyard for white elephants." He wants young players who want to run. He wants them to run a lot. He wants a team that will meld. He has been watching a lot of Al Wasl videos, a thought that does paint a picture. He came to work.

And as he spoke clearly and earnestly and respectfully, he began to sound like a plain old football manager - note: he needs a midfielder - and even with all his tempestuous past wound up loosing the unexpected thought of, Hey, sounds like I wouldn't mind playing for that guy.

As noted, it has been hot out.

 

cculpepper@thenational.ae