x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Al Wasl deny speaking to candidates about replacing Diego Maradona

Club rebuff reports saying Gianfranco Zola and Marcello Lippi have been contacted – and Walter Zenga renews contract at Al Nasr. Audio interviews

Diego Maradona says there is only a "50-50" chance he will remain at Al Wasl for the second year of his contract. Mike Young / The National
Diego Maradona says there is only a "50-50" chance he will remain at Al Wasl for the second year of his contract. Mike Young / The National

DUBAI // Al Wasl have denied media reports claiming the club have already opened negotiations with a number of high-profile candidates to replace Diego Maradona should the Argentine legend carry out his threat and step down from his post.

Maradona threatened to cut short his proposed two-year stay at Wasl last week if club management do not deliver on their promise of strengthening the squad with better players.

Media reports, quoting unnamed Wasl officials, have claimed the club are already preparing for Maradona’s exit by talking to several “high-profile” replacements.

One report claimed Gianfranco Zola, the former Italy international and a one-time coach of West Ham United in England, and Marcelo Lippi, who has coached Italy, are being considered as replacements.

“A number of names have been offered to Al Wasl following Maradona’s recent statements,” read a club statement. “[We are] seriously taking them into consideration”.

Since then the club have changed their stance. On their official Twitter account they have denied the media reports.

“This is just media speculation,” Ahmed Khalifa, the manager of Wasl’s media office, said. “There have been no contacts with any coach. Mr Maradona will be meeting with club officials soon to discuss his demands.”

Maradona believes he has only a “50-50” chance of staying with the club for the second year of his contract and said “change is imminent”.

“At the end of the season, I will either be packing my bags to leave or I will remain on top of my job,” Maradona said. “I am not here for a holiday, I am here to work and that is what I want to do. If I cannot do that then I might not be able to continue.”

Club officials could start to tire of Maradona’s comments about the size and strength of his squad. They will also have noted he was at Etihad Stadium for the Manchester Premier League derby the night before Wasl played Oman’s Al Nahda in the GCC Clubs Championship.

The future of another coach, Walter Zenga at Al Nasr, is more secure after the Italian signed a two-year contract.

But Zenga issued a warning to the club’s fans after they were jeered off the pitch following the Champions League loss to Sepahan on Tuesday night.

“I have just signed a contract, but I will leave … no problem,” Zenga said. “I will not allow anyone to disrespect my players.

“I don’t like people shouting at my players because I know what they do on the pitch and how hard they work. I know the efforts they have put in over the past one and a half year.

“Last year, we finished third and this year we are in the top four. This team was finishing seventh or eighth before that.”

Nasr have not won a trophy since their President’s Cup triumph in 1989. Their last league title came in 1986 and the Dubai club have been languishing around the mid-table since.

In 2010, they finished 10th in the Pro League and seemed in danger of repeating that performance the next season until Zenga arrived in January, 2011, and turned their fortunes around.

Nasr finished third last season, earning a direct berth to this year’s Champions League.

“The fans want us to win everything, but I repeat this is the first time in our history that we are participating in the Champions League,” Zenga said.

“We need to be realistic and ask how many of our players have the experience of playing at this level.

“We need to remember this club has not won anything in 20 years. Despite that, no one team has dominated us in this competition.

“That is why I respect my players and I will defend them.

“They have done the best they can. If somebody has something against me and they want me to leave, I will do it today. It’s not a big a deal.”

Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed Khaled, the chairman of Al Ain’s board of directors, passed on the congratulations of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE Armed Forced, and Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed for winning the Pro League to the players and coaches when they returned to training at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday evening.



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