Diego Maradona has declared that he is ready for the challenge at Fujairah as he met his new team for the first time on Saturday.
The Argentine, appointed in May as manager of the First Division club on a one-year contract, was accompanied at Fujairah Stadium by a trio of his compatriots who will serve as his coaching staff next season. Luis Islas, a member of the Argentina squad who won the 1986 World Cup with Maradona as captain, has been installed as assistant manager, with Gaston Romero the goalkeeper coach and Bruno Maffoni an analyst.
Maradona led his new team, currently playing in the second tier of UAE football, onto the pitch, where they posed for a group photo. He then spoke to the players briefly, through a translator, before fielding a selection of questions from the media. The former World Cup winner, who arrived in Fujairah on Thursday, last managed Dubai club Al Wasl for 14 months from May 2011.
“I have a great desire for this new challenge,” Maradona said. “I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready. My [coaching] team have worked in an excellent way, so I will give all the players everything to go to the pitch and do their best to be competitive. The focus of the team will be attacking, because that is where our strength lies, but that does not mean that we are bad in defence.”
Maradona, 56, will oversee training in the emirate from Sunday until the beginning of August, with the squad then travelling on August 6 to the Netherlands for a 20-day camp. The former Argentina national team manager said no discussions had taken place regarding which teams Fujairah would play against in Europe as they get set for next season. A match against Dutch champions Ajax had been mooted.
“I don’t know until now whom we will play because I have not seen the players on the training pitch yet,” he said. “I will decide after 10 days once I have assessed the standard of the players. If I believe we can play a big match with Ajax, or any other major team, then so be it, but first I need to see my team.”
One of Maradona’s first tasks will be to settle on Fujairah’s final foreign player for the 2017/18 season. The club are expecting to retain Patrick Eze, the Nigerian striker who spent time last season on loan at Saudi Arabia’s Al Qasidiyah. Lebanese forward Hassan Maatouk has been allowed to leave - Maradona said the decision was the player's - with the management keen on signing a forward or someone who can play more centrally. Almost certainly, the new recruit will come from South America. Maradona will sit with the Fujairah management in the coming days to talk through their options.
Maradona’s primary objective, though, is to guide Fujairah back into the Arabian Gulf League (AGL). Last season, the club finished fourth in the First Division to miss out on an immediate return. They last competed in the UAE top flight two seasons ago.
Maradona will hope his new role is more successful than his most recent: he struggled largely at Wasl, leading the club to a disappointing eighth-placed finish in the 2011/12 AGL. He was dismissed shortly afterwards.