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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Diego Maradona already making his mark at Fujairah: 'This is a like a dream for us'

Argentine's first few days in charge of the UAE First Division club have impressed players and staff

Maradona was a vocal presence throughout training, giving instructions through a translator. Christopher Pike / The National
Maradona was a vocal presence throughout training, giving instructions through a translator. Christopher Pike / The National

Members of the Fujairah management have praised Diego Maradona’s impact on the team following his first week and a half in charge of the club.

The Argentine, 56, has spent the past 10 days on the training pitch with his new side having arrived in the emirate two weeks ago. Appointed as manager in May, he signed a one-year contract with the option to extend should the move prove a success.

Maradona, who last managed Dubai club Al Wasl between 2011 and 2012, has returned to the dugout for the first time in five years, and is charged with leading the First Division club back into the Arabian Gulf League.

Diego Maradona leads his first training session in Fujairah. Christopher Pike / The National
Diego Maradona leads his first training session in Fujairah. Christopher Pike / The National

Giving instructions to his players through a translator, Maradona was a vocal presence throughout training at the Fujairah Stadium on Tuesday night, which lasted 90 minutes in incredibly humid conditions.

Speaking immediately afterwards, team manager Yousuf Abdullah said the players have been reinvigorated by Maradona’s arrival.

“We’re happy and to be honest, we’re lucky,” said Abdullah, a former Fujairah captain. “This is a like a dream for us, to have someone like Maradona here. He is the guy. He gives the players so much motivation, talking with everyone - even the injured players, asking how they are, discussing their situation.

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“For the players, they have been so happy to work with Maradona and he has been happy with them, for what they are giving in training. Also, he has been surprised by the character in our team and the mentality of the players. He says they need this if we are to reach our target and return to the Arabian Gulf League. So hopefully we can continue step by step and make that target.”

At Fujairah, Maradona has selected a trio of Argentines to make up part of his coaching staff, with Luis Islas acting as his assistant. A former goalkeeper, Islas was a member of the Argentina squad that won the 1986 World Cup with Maradona as captain.

Abdullah said having someone as manager whom is regarded by many as the best footballer in history is something Fujairah must capitalise on. Maradona did not excel only with his country, but he had a distinguished club career with Boca Juniors, Barcelona and, in particular, Napoli.

The Argentine legend speaks with fans after holding the training session. Christopher Pike / The National
The Argentine legend speaks with fans after holding the training session. Christopher Pike / The National

“This is what we need, for our culture” Abdullah said. “To make use of Maradona’s experience. Everybody wants to show him what they have, because he is such a big player, a famous player. He has adapted so well, and the players have adapted to him. We are still dreaming, and I hope when we wake up we can achieve something big with him.”

Fujairah will train at their stadium until next week, before leaving on August 5 for an external camp in the Netherlands. There, they will play five friendlies against a selection of European clubs.

Fujairah could have as many as two new foreign signings for the three-week camp, although Nigerian striker Patrick Eze has returned following last season’s loan at Saudi Arabia’s Al Qasidiyah and is currently training with the side.

Fujairah competed in the Arabian Gulf League most recently during the 2015/16 campaign, but finished fourth in last season’s First Division - the second tier of UAE football. The new season begins at the end of September.