x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Excitement of Maradona mixed with caution amongst Wasl fans

Fans of the Dubai club are happy but one recalls the big-name flops of Pro League.

The arrival of Diego Maradona will no doubt be a boost for fans and players alike at Al Wasl.
The arrival of Diego Maradona will no doubt be a boost for fans and players alike at Al Wasl.

DUBAI // The man in the yellow tracksuit screams it. The two young boys in brown khanduras talk excitedly to one another and it repeatedly creeps in among the crowd. The adolescent in the black-and-yellow jester hat and football jersey stands quiet, smiling as the people around him sing it over and over and over and over.

Maradona. Maradona. Maradona.

Diego Maradona's decision to yesterday sign a two-year coaching contract with Dubai's Al Wasl Club refocused the world's attention to Dubai and sparked festival-like celebrations outside Zabeel Stadium, yet there is as much pessimism and equivocation as there is pride and excitement.

Nobody quite knows what to expect, but they know it can only bring attention to the club, the city and the country.

"I can't foresee what will happen in the future, but it is a good move because it has already made headline news all over the world and put the Pro League in the international spotlight," said Josef Hickersberger, the Al Wahda coach.

"It is a very interesting decision from the Al Wasl board. For one of the best players in the game to coach an Emirati club is very special for the Pro League.

"Personally, I feel Maradona's signing has elevated the league and brought the UAE to the world's attention."

Not everybody is quite so convinced. Mohammed Hijazi, a 25-year-old Emirati of Yemeni descent, has supported Wasl for "more years than I can remember", but was sceptical by his club's latest appointment.

"Of course, I am happy because it has raised the profile of the club," said Hijazi, using his club scarf to wipe away the beads of sweat that dripped down his face.

"It is like when [Fabio] Cannavaro joined Al Ahli last year, everybody knew about it.

"But Maradona is not a great coach. He was a great player, but he is not a great coach.

"This is the truth; we are speaking frankly. If he was a great coach, he would have done something with Argentina at the World Cup."

Cannavaro's arrival at Ahli, coupled with the arrival of David O'Leary, the Irish coach, soon after, was supposed to tempt the country's many expatriates to attend Pro League games. But the move's success has been limited: The stadium remained only a quarter filled last night, despite the potential of seeing Al Jazira clinch the Pro League title.

Ahmed Khalifa Hammad, understandably for a chief executive who reportedly agreed to pay Dh22.5 million to Cannavaro this season, welcomed the lucrative signature of Maradona to the Emirates.

"It will bring a lot more attention to UAE football and, of course, our young boys will benefit greatly from his experience," Khalifa said. "It is a very good step from Al Wasl. "Some people may be jealous, but we should all look at this positively and look at what UAE football will gain from it.

"He has a lot to pass on to our players and at this stage, when we are moving from amateurism to professionalism, we need such teachers."

For a league that adopts a hot potato approach to coaching staff, one of the most fascinating aspects of Maradona's reign at Wasl will be how long he remains. A recent study by The National revealed that in the past three years, 45 men have coached the 16 teams that have spent at least a season in the league.

Ahmed al Juma, a Wasl supporter standing underneath a flag reading "Al Wasl welcomes Diego Armando Maradona", said he expects the former World Cup winner and Argentina manager to be treated differently to previous high-profile coaches, such as O'Leary.

"Maradona is not any old name; he will be given at least a year," he said.

"But he needs two. How can he win the league in his first season when he has never coached in the Gulf before? It's impossible."

In the Pro League, as Wasl showed with their coup this week, nothing is impossible.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

Pro League’s major signing

Coaches

Bruno Metsu, Al Ain

Frenchman led Senegal to their first World Cup appearance in 2002. At Al Ain he won three league titles, a President’s Cup and the Asian Champions League from 2002 to 2004. Later coached the national team.

Winfried Schaefer, Al Ahli / Al Ain

German won the African Cup of Nations with Cameroon in 2002. He led Al Ahli to the league in 2007 and won the cup double at Al Ain in 2009.

Toninho Cerezo, Al Shabab

Brazilian played in the World Cup in 1978 and 1982. He led Al Shabab to the league title in 2008.

Josef Hickersberger, Al Wahda

Played in and coached at the World Cup finals. Led Al Wahda to the Pro League title in 2010.

Players

Kalusha Bwalya, Al Wahda

African Footballer of the Year in 1988. The Zambian played for Al Wahda in 1998.

Abedi Pele, Al Ain

The former African Player of the Year in the 1990s. The Ghanian spent two seasons with Al Ain from 1998.

George Weah, Al Jazira

The Liberian was World, European and African Footballer of the Year in 1995. The former AC Milan star turned out for Al Jazira between 2001 to 2003.

Ali Daei, Al Shabab

Iranian is all-time leading international goalscorer (109 goals in 149 games). He played for Al Shabab in the 2002/2003 season.

Phillip Cocu, Al Jazira

Midfielder won 101 caps for Holland. Spent two seasons with Jazira from 2007.

Fabio Cannvaro, Al Ahli

Captained Italy to World Cup win in 2006 and named World Player of the Year. Joined Al Ahli last year.

* Amith Passela