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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Diego Maradona's Fujairah timeline: From shock unveiling to departure by 'mutual agreement'

John McAuley chronicles the Argentine's time at the UAE First Division club

Diego Maradona looks dejected after his Fujairah side were held to a 1-1 draw by Khorffakan to deny them automatic promotion to the Arabian Gulf League. Christopher Pike / Reuters
Diego Maradona looks dejected after his Fujairah side were held to a 1-1 draw by Khorffakan to deny them automatic promotion to the Arabian Gulf League. Christopher Pike / Reuters

Diego Maradona and Fujairah parted ways on Friday by mutual consent, according to the Argentine's representatives, following the club’s failure to gain automatic promotion to the Arabian Gulf League following a 1-1 draw with Khorfakkan.

It brings to an end one of the most talked about appointments in UAE football history, especially considering Fujairah - who went the entire First Division campaign unbeaten under the Argentine - are still in with a shout of promotion if they can beat Hatta in a two-legged play-off next month.

Here is a timeline of Maradona's time at the club.

Diego Maradona had joined Fujairah as their manager last year. Satish Kumar / The National
Diego Maradona had joined Fujairah as their manager last year. Satish Kumar / The National

May 7, 2017: Maradona announces his shock return to management after a five-year absence. Posting to his Facebook account, he says: “I want to tell you that I’m the new coach of the Al-Fujairah SC, in the second division of the United Arab Emirates.” He is pictured holding aloft a Fujairah shirt, emblazoned on the back with his surname and his famous No 10. He agrees to a one-year contract with an option for another year.

May 14, 2017: Maradona is formally introduced to the media as Fujairah manager at an expectant Al Diar Siji Hotel. He says: “I would like to say this very strongly - those who think of beating Fujairah will have to beat Maradona. I will make this an impossible task for everyone. From the first moment we spoke, this house has become my house.”

July 15, 2017: Having added three compatriots to his backroom staff, Maradona, begins pre-season at the Fujairah Stadium. He speaks through a translator to his squad and poses for a group picture before taking questions from the gathered media. He declares: “I have a great desire for this new challenge. I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready.”

July 16, 2017: Fujairah begin training for the 2017/18 First Division season. They train in the UAE until August 5, at which point they transit to the Netherlands for a 20-day training camp to escape the Emirates summer. They return at the end of the month and immediately prepare for the new campaign.

November 4, 2017: Maradona leads his new team in their first competitive match since his appointment, in the season opener at home to Al Uroob. Fujairah take the lead after 26 minutes, but were made to pay for their profligacy when the visitors equalise 20 minutes from time. “We lost two points, but we have time to recover those,” Maradona said. “This is only the beginning of the season, so it’s not the end of the world. In general I’m very happy with my players.”

November 10, 2017: Fujairah win their first match with Maradona in the dugout, a 4-2 victory away at Ras Al Khaimah. They then draw their next match, at home to eventual champions Baniyas, before embarking on a run of three consecutive victories. Between January 26 and February 17 they reel off another five successive wins, including an extra-time triumph in the President’s Cup last-16 tie with Arabian Gulf League side Hatta, and look well set for promotion. However, a run of five draws from seven matches up until April 6 stunts their progress.

April 12, 2018: Fujairah face off against UAE champions-elect Al Ain in the President’s Cup quarter-final in Dubai and take an early lead. However, Al Ain’s superior talent tells, and they eventually win 4-2. Despite the defeat, Maradona says afterwards: “We proved we are ready to play in the Arabian Gulf League. If we are lucky to play in the top league next year, we will play as elegantly as we did today. My players are genuine men. I am very proud of them.”

Diego Maradona embraces one of his players after the President's Cup quarter-final. Pawan Singh / The National
Diego Maradona embraces one of his players after the President's Cup quarter-final. Pawan Singh / The National

April 27, 2018: Needing victory in their final league game of the season to guarantee promotion to the Arabian Gulf League, Fujairah take the lead at home to Khorfakkan just before the hour. Three minutes later, goalkeeper Saeed Sadiq makes an awful error to gift the visitors an equaliser. The 1-1 draw, coupled with Ittihad Kalba’s victory against Al Uroob, means Fujairah finish third and must now gain promotion through a two-legged play-off against Hatta in May. Maradona leaves Fujairah Stadium visibly dejected. Within hours, Fujairah announce on social media that the Argentine is no longer manager. His lawyer later confirms the decision was a “mutual agreement”.