x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Maradona will ask the question: Who’s got talent in football?

Diego Maradona is on the search for Arab footballing talent, and the prize is a unique shot at a professional career in Europe.

Argentina football legend Diego Maradona has made Dubai his home, and now wants to go talent-spotting among the Arab youth. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo
Argentina football legend Diego Maradona has made Dubai his home, and now wants to go talent-spotting among the Arab youth. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo

Dubai loves him. And in return, he is never shy of confessing his gratitude to a city that he now calls home.

Now, Diego Maradona is paying it forward. And not just in Dubai, but across the Arab world.

Starting in March on Dubai TV, Maradona will star in The Victorious, a talent-spotting show that will look to set one Arab youngster on the road to a professional career at one of Europe’s top clubs, including Real Madrid.

If you fancy yourself the next Cristiano Ronaldo, this could be your big break.

The format will be familiar to fans of reality television shows. Trials across 16 Arab countries are being held to find 22 contestants who will take part in The Victorious.

The show will start filming at Dubai Sports City in the next two months, and the 12 episodes will air from March 19.

Every week, two challengers will be sent home, and the winner will be revealed one week before the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The show is the brainchild of the former Libyan footballer Jehad Muntasser, who spent a year at Arsenal in the late 1990s before playing eight seasons in Italy.

“The vision and inspiration for the show came from seeing the struggle of Arab youth over the last few years,” he says.

His belief in the healing and uniting power of sports, and football in particular, led him to seek the help of arguably the beautiful game’s greatest player, and he went to Maradona’s home.

“And as soon as I began talking, he stopped me and said ‘I’m in; this is for me’.”

Maradona’s own humble beginnings are legend, making him the perfect example for those looking for a once-in-a-lifetime break from obscurity. Preliminary work has already begun on the programme, and Maradona is looking forward to casting an eye on the region’s talent.

Judging by the crowds that mob him whenever he goes out in public, it is very likely that getting coached by Maradona might leave one or two kids star struck at first.

It would be stretching a point to say Maradona has anything to prove, but he was keen to highlight his gratitude to those who are giving him the chance “to do what I love to do”.

For Maradona, who had one tumultuous season as manager of Al Wasl, this is a chance to show Arab audiences what he is all about.

“I’m very excited about the project and very happy to be in Dubai at a time when everyone was telling me to go back to Argentina,” the ambassador of the Dubai Sports Council said.

“We have been working very hard for a while to give an Arab player this unique opportunity to play in Europe,” he added.

“I’ve done many shows in Argentina, but never with kids before. This is a challenge for me and I love challenges.”

Talent contests can produce superstars, but they can also crush dreams.

Maradona has a message, and a promise, for the contestants.

“I wish good luck for all the challengers; it will not be easy,” he said. “But we assure them, one of you will be playing European football.”

Those who make it to the final 22 will be trained, and judged, not only by Maradona, but by number of other international stars.

The Italian international Alessandro Nesta, the director of football at the Dubai Sports City Football Academy, Michel Salgado; and his former Real Madrid teammates Raul, Roberto Carlos and Guti, are just five of the names expected to take part in the show.

“This is a chance for all the kids in the region,” Salgado said. “It’s something they will never forget.”

One fleet-footed young footballer will walk off with a cheque for US$10,000 (Dh36,700) and, more importantly the chance to play for one of Real Madrid, Juventus or Hamburg.

“I’m very grateful for everyone here, and hope that the [audience] will be interested in The Victorious,” Maradona said. “It will be something special and we are proud of it.”

For those who will get to kick a ball with El Diego himself, it could mean a lot more than that.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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