x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Wasl hint at more big-name players to follow Maradona to Dubai

Club promises more surprises in the coming days after confirming Argentine legend Diego Maradona as their new coach for the next two seasons.

Diego Maradona, centre, has worked with some of the world's best players during his days as coach of the Argentina national team, including Lionel Messi, above right, and Carlos Tevez, above left. Will his mere presence overbear the players at Al Wasl next season?
Diego Maradona, centre, has worked with some of the world's best players during his days as coach of the Argentina national team, including Lionel Messi, above right, and Carlos Tevez, above left. Will his mere presence overbear the players at Al Wasl next season?

DUBAI // Al Wasl have promised more surprises in the coming days after confirming Argentine legend Diego Maradona as their new coach for the next two seasons.

After a day of media speculation following Maradona's visit to the club on Saturday, Al Wasl announced the deal yesterday with Marwan bin Bayat, the chairman of Al Wasl Football Company, expressing his pride at "joining the ranks of international football with our latest endorsement of one of the greatest sports figures of all time".

"We dedicate this paramount turn of events to our loyal fans and thank the inspiring leaders of Al Wasl Sports Club, who have been a beacon for what we can achieve and a catalyst for more success in the future," bin Bayat added.

The value of the contract has not been revealed, but bin Bayat said it "is worthy of the stature and reputation of the great legend".

According to Ashraf Mohammed, the chief executive of Al Wasl Football Club, the two-year deal comes with the option of extending it to four years.

"If we want four years, we could have it," he said. "He is not a coach, he's a family now. He is part of us. His arrival will be a huge boost for our players, a great motivation for them. It will be a privilege for every player to be under his control.

"And this is just the beginning. The vision of the company is extremely high. Yes, we have brought the ultimate, but expect more things to come. Our dreams are endless."

Mohammed's comment suggest Wasl could be bringing in a few big-name players during the summer to strengthen the side. They have already confirmed a four-year deal for Edson Puch, the Chile international, who will link up with the team in time for the start of next season.

The club have also signed Albert Benaiges, the chief of Barcelona's youth teams, on a five-year deal as technical director of the club's youth system.

On his recommendation, Wasl have also hired Antonio Amor Fernandez and Juan Carlos Buno. "We are pushing on all fronts," said Sweidan al Naboodah, the club's vice-chairman. "We are very ambitious; we are a young group, a board appointed two years ago and we really want to take our club to the next level.

"I believe, in general, UAE football is lagging behind the rest of the world and we believe all these steps will push us into a new direction. It will give our fans the sense to have an ambition, the sense to believe their club can achieve higher things.

"This mirrors the ambition of Al Wasl Club and certainly our president, Sheikh Ahmed [bin Rashid], and the vice-president Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed. All of them have this pure ambition to get Al Wasl back among the top teams, not just in the UAE but we are also thinking about the GCC. We also want to be in Asia next season."

The arrival of Maradona will definitely push Wasl into the global spotlight and could lead to a boom in merchandising, but for al Naboodah, the most important thing is what he brings to the club: passion and charisma.

"An idol like Maradona signing for Al Wasl is a huge event for UAE football in general," he said. "I think he will bring with him a lot of his charisma, personality and character, which we have all seen in the World Cups.

"I believe this is something much-needed in UAE football, where passion and character, I think, comes as the third or fourth attribute for the general UAE player. This should be the first quality in football and we see it across the world.

"So we have faith Maradona will change that aspect of our football, change the mentality of the players, and we are really looking forward to that. It is going to be a great adventure."

Maradona's last coaching job was with the Argentina national team at the 2010 World Cup and his aura virtually overshadowed a squad that boasted the likes of Lionel Messi.

Some observers have suggested that Maradona's presence could be overbearing for the Wasl players, given the Argentine's standing in the game. Al Naboodah brushed aside those concerns.

"As children, we all played football thinking we are Maradona," he said. "We have all wanted to be Maradona. So, of course, meeting someone as big as Maradona gives you the goose bumps, but after spending a few minutes with him, you get to see the real person.

"He is very simple, a down-to-earth guy who loves to have a laugh. He has a great sense of humour. After those initial few minutes, you feel you can be a friend with the guy and not really think of him as the great Maradona or the football idol."

arizvi@thenational.ae