x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The mutual appreciation society

Jose Mourinho and Diego Maradona, two of footballs's most outspoken figures, closed the opening day of the seventh annual Dubai International Sports Conference.

French Michel Platini, left, President of the Union of European Football Associations, gestures with secretary-general of the UAE National Olympic Committee, Mohammad Al Kamali, right, next to H.H.Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, centre, Chairman of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority during a session at the 7th edition of the Dubai International Sports Conference in the Gulf Emirate of Dubai. Ali Haider / EPA
French Michel Platini, left, President of the Union of European Football Associations, gestures with secretary-general of the UAE National Olympic Committee, Mohammad Al Kamali, right, next to H.H.Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, centre, Chairman of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority during a session at the 7th edition of the Dubai International Sports Conference in the Gulf Emirate of Dubai. Ali Haider / EPA

DUBAI // New Year celebrations are not due to start for another three days, yet last night fireworks appeared inevitable. Jose Mourinho and Diego Maradona, two of footballs's most outspoken figures, were scheduled to close the opening day of the seventh annual Dubai International Sports Conference. Surely sparks would fly and sound bites would be as plentiful as leftover turkey?

Sadly, no. Like a rain shower during a Christmas Day barbecue, the evening ended as a damp squib.

The two temperamental managers were invited to discuss "Sports Strategies and Planning" and immediately made clear there would be nothing but respect and admiration on show.

"I am pleased to meet such a legend," Maradona, the former Al Wasl coach and now an ambassador for sports in Dubai, said of Mourinho.

The Real Madrid coach, dressed in a smart black suit, returned the compliment by adding: "You can't compare anyone with Diego, as a player."

During the 45-minute forum, conducted in Italian, the men were asked questions by Umberto Gandini, the AC Milan director. While Maradona was asked about building a successful team, Mourinho was inevitably asked about his side's upcoming Champions League tie with Manchester United.

"We can win, we can lose, but we know that if we lose we are out," he said, before adding: "The philosophy of Manchester United is different from Real Madrid's philosophy … It will be interesting to play at Old Trafford because it is different from Spain … The world is waiting for this game because football arouses passion."

Both men are renowned for their passion and it was this characteristic Mourinho questioned when asked by the moderator for his views on the development of football in the Middle East. Maradona had earlier spoken about the need for football to be played at grass-roots level in schools, but the former Chelsea coach instead asked whether there was enough enthusiasm to play.

"Yes, they are passionate about football [here], but my question is whether they are passionate about the football played or the football that they watch on TV - the top leagues," he said. "When I was a kid I wanted to play all the time, with my dad, at school, everywhere. Here, I'm not sure it is like that."

This is the seventh year Dubai has hosted the conference, yet while it continues to attract high-profile figures - last year's event was headlined by Cristiano Ronaldo and Alessandro Del Piero - the organisation of the two-day conference remains uneven.

Yesterday, Mourinho refused to attend his media session, while many conference attendees were left without translation headsets. The speakers who did attend the post-session press briefings were forced to talk without microphones, leaving Fabrice Muamba, the former Bolton Wanderers midfielder, and Sandro Rosell, the Barcelona president, drowned out by people speaking on mobile phones.

The afternoon had started with Michel Platini, the Uefa president, discussing professional ethics as well as the future of football. The Frenchman opened a short address by warning delegates that "you have asked me to talk about ethical behaviour and I hope you realise you have invited a practitioner of such behaviour, not a theoretician".

Platini, widely recognised as one of France's most talented players, noted that the public's perception of him has changed since he moved from the football field to the boardroom.

"I played the game for some years and things were very clear to me," said Platini, who won the European Cup with Juventus in 1985. "I never picked up a red card and my conduct on the pitch was so blameless as to make me popular and help me win over the public. Then I became a director and, thanks to that role, I have been required as part of my responsibilities to take decisions."

Platini, 57, became president of Uefa in 2007 and says since then he has often been cast as an antagonist by some clubs, including Atletico Madrid and Fenerbahce, who were punished by the confederation's disciplinary committee.

He reiterated his belief that Qatar's 2022 World Cup should be held in the winter months and added it would be "a good idea" for the Gulf state to spread their tournament around the region, potentially including the Emirates.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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