x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Fireworks from Diego Maradona are aimed at Pele

Argentine says 'Pele is confused' for saying Neymar is better than Messi, and thanks the Wasl fans for their support.

Maradona has been touched by the support he has received, strengthening his feelings regarding the Dubai club.
Maradona has been touched by the support he has received, strengthening his feelings regarding the Dubai club.

Diego Maradona's heart may still be hurting, following the recent death of his mother, but his acid tongue is in perfect working order.

The Al Wasl coach was at his spiky best as he discussed tonight's match with Al Shabab, with old adversary Pele coming into his line of fire.

When the Argentine was told that Pele, with whom he has had a difficult relationship with in the past, had remarked that Neymar, the young Brazilian striker, was a better player than Lionel Messi, Barcelona's Argentine superstar, it provoked a biting retort.

"It seems Pele is confused, and I think he has mixed up his medication," said Maradona. "He took the morning pill, instead of his night-time pill, and that has caused him to lose focus, which is why he came out with a statement like that.

"Yes, Neymar is a good player, but he is certainly not better than Messi.

"I suggest that before Pele speaks about such things again, he checks his medication, or changes his doctor."

Maradona has been clearly touched by the support he received before and after the funeral of his mother, Dalma Franco, two weeks ago, and this has only strengthened his feelings regarding the Dubai club and where he wants to take them.

He returned to Dubai immediately after the funeral when the club had given him the possibility of taking unlimited time off to spend with his family in Argentina.

However, the 51 year old was determined to show his commitment to Wasl, who entertain Dubai rivals Shabab in the Pro League this evening, and made sure he was in the dugout for last week's 2-1 win over Emirates.

"I would like to thank everyone for their support," Maradona said.

"The officials, players and fans have been fantastic during this tragic time.

"My mother is an angel now, and she is looking down on me, watching everything I do. She will always be in my heart and my life has changed forever.

"I would cut off my hand for my mother to still be alive, but life goes on. To be honest, right after the funeral, I was thinking about my team and wanted to get back to my players. What happened will give us extra motivation for Al Shabab."

Maradona has been so impressed with his players' attitude at the beginning of what he described as a "journey" with Wasl that last week he dipped into his own pocket to give them a bonus.

Each first-team player received Dh5,000 from their coach, who claimed this may not be the last time he shows such generosity. "I feel they deserved it because they work hard and are improving," he said. "I would do it again. Money is not an issue with me and never has been. There are more important things in this life.

"All I ask of them is they give 100 per cent for me, and for the fans. We need to do this against Al Shabab, who are a well-organised team."

This special time of the year for the country has not passed un-noticed with one of its newer residents. "I congratulate the UAE on its 40th year, and I hope to be here for many more National Days," said Maradona.

ncameron@thenational.ae