Diego Maradona will test his coaching acumen against last season's strongest domestic club, when he makes his debut at Al Wasl in an Etisalat Cup home match.
Al Jazira await Diego Maradona in Etisalat Cup opener
DUBAI // Diego Maradona will test his coaching acumen against Al Jazira, last season's strongest domestic club, when he makes his debut as Al Wasl's coach in an Etisalat Cup home match on September 15.
Maradona, the UAE's biggest summer signing despite not having played a game since 1997, has modest results as a club coach, but he led Argentina's national team to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup.
Jazira won the league and President's Cup last season and also have a new coach, Maradona's Argentine compatriot and former international teammate, Alejandro Sabella.
Maradona's Wasl debut was fixed in the 2011/12 draw for the UAE's top flight in a ballroom of the Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai. He was not at the event; he remains in Argentina, scouting for talent at the Copa America tournament being held in his homeland.
Saeed Abdul Gaffar Hussain, an FA vice president and chairman of the interim committee charged with overseeing the professional league, said the gala event, which included entertainment and highlights from the 2010/11 season, demonstrated the league's continuity, even if it does not yet have an official name or logo.
"We wouldn't have done this beautiful event, this draw, if we didn't want to continue with the league," he said. "It will continue as before. The success has always been there. It was very successful last year and it will be again this season."
He said the new name of the league would "be announced very shortly, and before the season starts".
Abdullah Al Junaibi, the deputy chairman of the five-man interim committee, said that league matches would not begin until October due to international commitments in September for top Emirati players but would end on May 6, almost a full month earlier than last season's final games.
The league suffered three gaps of more than 30 days last season, and needed nine months to complete a 22-game schedule. Many observers believed the breaks in the schedule affected the quality of play.
Hussain said the coming season will reduce the delays.
"Everything was studied and I think the necessary steps have been taken to have an exceptional season," he said.
"The competition committee has worked hard to avoid interruptions, and I think everyone will see the results of their work."
Carlo Nohra remains the chief executive of the league despite having been hired by the board of the dissolved UAE Football League. He also stressed the continuity of the organisation. "I've gone on record saying that very little will change," he said.
"The name will change, but other than that the staff will remain the same."
He said the interim committee's approval of recommendations made before the UFL was dissolved demonstrate its willingness to work with the country's big clubs.
This season, the league will allow a fourth foreign player on each team, as long as he carries a passport from an Asian Football Confederation nation; and it will reduce squad sizes from 45 to 35.
In first-round league games, Maradona's Wasl will be on the road to Sharjah, and Jazira will play at Al Ahli, who have been particularly active this summer, rehiring the Czech Ivan Hasek as coach and signing the Brazilian forwards Grafite and Jakson "JaJa" Coehlo, and the Chile international midfielder, Luis Jimenez.
In the Etisalat Cup draw, holders Al Shabab were placed in Group B and Jazira in Group A.
Joining Jazira in Group A were Wasl, Al Wahda, Dubai, Al Ain and Emirates. In Group B with Shabab are Baniyas, Al Nasr, Sharjah and Ajman.
The top two in their groups after 10 Etisalat Cup matches advance to the semi-finals, with the leaders playing the runners-up from the other division at neutral venues.
Etisalat Cup Round 1 — (September 15-16)
Al Wasl v Al Jazira
Al Wahda v Al Ain
Dubai v Emirates
Baniyas v Al Shabab
Al Nasr v Shajrah
Al Ahli v Ajman
League Round 1 — October (dates not yet determined)
Sharjah v Al Wasl
Al Nasr v Al Ain
Al Wahda v Al Shabab
Dubai v Emirates
Al Ahli v Al Jazira
Baniyas v Ajman