x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Live blog: Unveiling of Diego Maradona at Al Wasl in Dubai

Get the latest as it happened with the legendary football officially announced as manager of the Pro League club and a historic chapter in UAE football begins.

Maradona is the biggest name to grace UAE shores.
Maradona is the biggest name to grace UAE shores.

The eyes of the football world are on Dubai this morning where Diego Maradona is to be officially unveiled as manager of Al Wasl. The Pro League club have called a press conference at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel, The Palm Jumeirah to present the Argentine great to a packed media conference as the successor to Sergio Farias.

The club have received over 100 media requests for the news conference and among the questions will surely be how much is Maradona being paid. Reporter Neil Cameron is at the venue and is providing regular updates for this live blog.

(Keep refreshing this page every few minutes to get the latest)

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2.10 pm: Well, that’s it from me and Diego.

If all his interviews are going to be like this, then the UAE is the place to be for the next two years.

It was the best of stuff. What else did you expect? It’s that kind of day.

The press posse is buzzing. Everyone fell in love with the little guy for that past hour. We all agree that he spoke well, with just the right touch of controversy.

And I took the liberty of delaying this update by couple of minutes to take a picture of the man on my phone, just like every single other person in the room, while the photographers get you the best pictures for the paper and the website. Also read the report here.

1.49 pm: And then, just short of an hour, it ends.

There’s cheering and signing of Maradona’s name from some fans as he poses with the Al Wasl board for pictures. He raises his hands in triumph and, to be fair, it’s been a brilliant press conference.

He disappears behind a curtain like the proper showman he is. That was fantastic.


1.45 pm: He’s not letting Mr Blatter away with anything. “I have been asked to join the Fifa family. I say to them; what family? I do not deal with corrupt people.

“Players are never asked about how to improve football. They (the bosses) are arrogant and have too much power. Every day there is corruption. That is not football.

“They can keep the money they have made and go to the sun. But please leave football. I think this will happen soon.”


1.25 pm: It’s my turn to ask a question to my new best friend. I want to know if some big name signings will be made by Al Wasl.

Maradona says: “I will tell you this. The players I will bring will have passion and they will give their love on the field. I will go for youth; not old players. I do not want the club to be a graveyard for white elephants.

“They will bring pace and enthusiasm.

“I do not want to sign old players at the end of their careers who are only interested in having more photographs taken of himself.”

He admits that Lionel Messi won’t be coming, which is a shame.


1.17 pm: He is asked about his lack of coaching success. This suggestion earns a wag of the finger and a hard stare. The questioner immediately regrets his outburst.

“I am not going to steal from anyone. If I was called to do this work, there must be a reason for that. What I did with the national team, was not just about football. We had some black hands in the team who stopped me. If they were not there, I may still be with the side.”

“There are a lot of people who don’t like me. But I sleep peacefully.”

This is great fun.

The Al Wasl coach is asked why he always wears two watches. “One watch for my time, one watch for my daughters’ time. One watch is Dubai time; one watch in Argentina. I want to know when my grand-daughter wakes up;” he explains.

He is Diego Maradona. He can do whatever he wants.

He then goes on a rant about Sepp Blatter and FIFA. 'We won’t get fair, clean football until these guys go', Diego says.

1.08 pm: We start with the questions and right away he is asked about money. Which brings a smile to Maradona’s face. The figure of $8million (Dh21m) a year is mentioned.

He says: ““I would like to make a contract with you. We are very far away from the numbers.

“I am not a player now. I am a coach. It is the players who make all the money now. The coaches don’t.

“But you could be my representative.”

Asked about football here in the UAE: “There are many South American players here in the UAE and in the region. I have spoken to many of them. I have friends who are working here. I come here to work, to get familiar with the team and get experience.

“Don’t forget that we were fifth in the world with the national team.

“I will put the same passion and desire with Al Wasl that I did with Argentina. Al Wasl are my team now.”


1.04 pm: Diego Maradona looks a happy man. A bit of grey in the beard, but he’s in good shape.

We will start with a few words from Al Wasl chairman, Marwan Bin Bayat. He said: “It gives me great honour to unveil Al Wasl’s FC head coach. This is history in making, having an agreement with Argentine legend Diego Armando Maradana.”

This gets another round of applause. It won’t be the last.

“I would like to thank everyone who worked day and night to get this contract;” Bin Bayat added.

He even thanked the press. And now for Diego.

“Good afternoon, or is it morning. I would like to tell you that I would really like to thank to the president of Al Wasl team and all the people who made it possible for me to come here.

“I feel good to have this challenge. I did not expect this challenge. I feel the same way as when I was coach of my national team, Argentina. I will tell the players that if they do not commit themselves to the team, there is no point in playing.

“I know about this commitment because of my life. There will be no freedoms for everyone. I want to guarantee to the people that we will win matches.”


And at 12.51pm UAE time, Diego Maradona walks into this opulent room beside Al Wasl chairman Marwan Bin Bayat. He is sitting just a few yards away from me. All of a sudden, this is very real.

He gets a big round of applause.

12.15pm: We are still waiting. He’s now almost 45 minutes late. We are told it could be another quarter of an hour before we see him. Did anyone think anything different?

To be fair, he will still be recovering from his 20-hour flight and even legends get jetlag.

And, anyway, when has El Diego worried about keeping to a tight schedule?

11.45am: Still waiting...

The press conference will be in Arabic, Spanish and English. This is going to be fun and games.

The Al Wasl press officers, led by the admirable Ahmad Khalifa, are a tad stressed. This is going to be the longest day of their lives.

The club officials look pleased with themselves, as well as they should. They know that, perhaps even now, there are sceptics who don’t think this will really happen.

Now the wait is only minutes away.

11.25am: As we get closer to the press conference starting, I take the opportunity to bore everyone about the fact I have actually seen Maradona play, for Argentina against Scotland in Glasgow in 1979.

He scored his first international goal that day.

The room is really beginning to fill up. Camera crews are jostling for position and there are a dozen microphones on the table already.

There are going to be over 100 media people here. This story is going around the world today.

11.10am: As we are waiting for Diego's grand entrance, a local television station decides to film me typing away on my laptop. I wish I hadn't been on Facebook!

The banner behind the table on a stage inside what is a grand room where everything will take place reads; "The Official Press Conference To Unveil Al Wasl Football Club's Head Coach Diego Maradona."

Just in case we had forgotten why we were here.

 

It is 11am. We are in the Zabeel Saray Hotel on the Palm Jumeriah in Dubai. And Diego Maradona is in the building. Honestly.

Al Wasl's new coach touched down on UAE soil at 11pm last night (Friday) after a 20-hour journey from Argentina and checked into this hotel an hour later.

This is really happening.

Today's press conference with Maradona will now apparently start at noon, later than scheduled; as you would expect.

Journalists are arriving in their droves and many carry a look of bemusement on their faces. Nobody really expected this day to happen.

The Al Wasl officials are rushing about making sure that there are no last-minute hitches. It's all rather exciting.

I will be providing regular updates from the conference. You won't miss a thing.