x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Maradona's past is of no importance to Wasl chairman

Marwan ben Beyat says Diego Maradona's controversial past has never once concerned the club.

Diego Maradona, right, during his tour of the club's stadium on his visit to Dubai earlier this month. The Wasl chairman says the Argentine's storied past was never an issue in appointing him the club's new coach.
Diego Maradona, right, during his tour of the club's stadium on his visit to Dubai earlier this month. The Wasl chairman says the Argentine's storied past was never an issue in appointing him the club's new coach.

DUBAI // Marwan ben Beyat, the chairman of Al Wasl, says Diego Maradona's controversial past has never once concerned the club, even as their new coach faced his latest brush with authority this week.

Maradona told media in Argentina that his country's football association "shelved" drug tests after a 1993 World Cup qualifier against Australia. His comment came in the wake of allegations that some Argentine players took performance enhancing substances around that time.

Maradona, the 1986 World Cup winner, has often attracted negative publicity since his playing days ended.

Ben Beyat, however, said the Al Wasl board did not talk about Maradona's previous mistakes, preferring to concentrate on the man he is now.

"I really like Maradona. He has changed a lot," the Dubai club's chairman said. "He has become a very family orientated man who wants to secure his family's future by coming here and he just loves his grandson.

"I did not touch on that part of his life [the past controversies] when we met. I think there have always been a lot of outside influences who have attacked him. I didn't see the need."

Ben Beyat said he found Maradona to be "really pleasant".

"He walked into the room with a big smile on his face and said to me; 'Hey, I'm in Dubai at last'. I'm not saying it was on his wish list or anything like that, but he had been trying for a while to find the time to visit this country.

"I believe we should focus on his age. When he has such troubles, he was in his late 20s, maybe early 30s. So when he got to his 40s [Maradona is now 50] he became a different person."

Al Wasl were originally contacted by an agent working on behalf of the former Barcelona and Napoli star a month ago regarding the possibility of Maradona working in this region, the chairman said.

Maradona was not short on offers, so Al Wasl had their work cut out, according to the chairman.

"I sat on my own in an office for half a day just trying to work out how to present the idea of Maradona to the board,"ben Beyat said. "I'm sure quite a few of them did not believe what I was saying. A lot of clubs and some national teams wanted him, but Al Wasl gave him the best offer.

"We always had a five-year plan at this club and we have now taken a big shortcut by this appointment.

"And now we have to work day and night to get things in place. The marketing team needs to work really hard to get the best deals for Maradona and Al Wasl. We want to see a lot of international companies becoming partners.

"I believe the people of the UAE are counting the days until he arrives. They can't wait to see Maradona as coach of Al Wasl. There will be a lot of No 10 shirts at games and he will be asked to sign an awful lot of them."

And while completing a deal of this magnitude is never simple, the job became more straightforward when Maradona touched down on UAE soil.

"At first, it felt as if we had a hard job to convince him, but once Diego got to Dubai the job was an easy one for me and the club," ben Beyat said.

"He had never been to Dubai before and he had no idea at all about the infrastructure we have here. He was so impressed and he could really see himself living in the city.

"He was amazed to see the world's tallest building [the Burj Khalifa], luxury hotels, world-class airport and so much more in our clean and safe city."

ncameron@thenational.ae