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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Diego Maradona's opening Division One game as Fujairah manager 'very important'

Team official Yousuf Abdullah confident of Argentine manager's impact on east-coast club but emphasises on winning first Division One game on Saturday with focus on promotion to Arabian Gulf League

Fujairah manager Diego Maradona talks to his squad during a training session. Christopher Pike / The National
Fujairah manager Diego Maradona talks to his squad during a training session. Christopher Pike / The National

Fujairah say Diego Maradona’s infectious personality has the team raring to go ahead of their opening match of the new First Division season on Saturday.

The former World Cup winner, who this week celebrated his 57th birthday, leads the east-coast club against Al Orouba at the Fujairah Stadium on the back of a productive past few months since his appointment in May.

Having signed an initial one-year contract, Maradona has been given the remit of guiding Fujairah back into the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) for the first time since 2015/16. The club, who finished fourth in the First Division last season, began pre-season in July before spending three weeks at a training camp in the Netherlands in August.

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Since their return, Fujairah have played a number of friendly matches and contested the preliminary rounds of the President’s Cup.

Yousuf Abdullah, the Fujairah team manager and former captain, praised Maradona’s impact, saying the Argentine’s influence has been felt throughout the club.

“So many people from outside have come to see the training and what the atmosphere is like and he pushes the team all the time,” Abdullah said. “He gives them all the motivation.

“Diego takes care about the big things for the team, but also the small things, everybody here in the club. He will go into the kitchen also to check if everybody there is OK or not. All of the atmosphere in our club is good and he made something, to be honest, in the life for our club. It’s what we need from him. He is special.”

Maradona has managed previously in the UAE, spending 14 months at Al Wasl from May 2011. In that time, he led the Dubai club to a disappointing eighth-place finish in the AGL.

One of the most recognisable names in football, Maradona has been handed a difficult start to the First Division campaign, with Fujairah facing Baniyas and Kalba within their first few weeks. Those two teams spent last season in the UAE top flight.

Abdullah said Maradona and Fujairah must begin on a positive note this weekend, with only the top two teams at the end of the campaign guaranteed to climb back into the AGL next May.

“The first game for us is very important if we are to reach our target,” he said. “But it is not only Al Orouba, our first five matches are not easy. But I hope we can do it. A good performance in the first match will be very good for our future.

“Each team that plays against Fujairah fights and fights inside the field, because of Diego and the team, so we have prepared the players’ mentality for this situation. So Saturday is very important for us. I hope our players enjoy it to show the people what we have inside the field. We are ready, the preparations have gone very well."

Abdullah added that the club expects a large crowd on Saturday to cheer on Maradona and his men, saying: “So many fans are coming. I hope they support us. Yesterday we had too many fans from Argentina, and also many people from other countries coming every day to our club.

"I hope that they come during the games also. That’s what we need for motivation of the team, to support the team, to be a success.”