x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The asset that is Diego Maradona may become a liability

The Argentine's antics garner Al Wasl global attention, but at what cost?

Al Wasl have amassed 24 points so far this season under Diego Maradona, compared to 26 at the same stage last year. The Argentine has regularly criticised his players and their performances, too.
Al Wasl have amassed 24 points so far this season under Diego Maradona, compared to 26 at the same stage last year. The Argentine has regularly criticised his players and their performances, too.

In August of 2009, Arsene Wenger kicked a water bottle at Old Trafford and was ordered into the stand by the referee. For the final minute of the match, Manchester United fans showered the Arsenal manager with verbal abuse, much of it shockingly vile.

Wenger's reaction? He smiled.

Diego Maradona could take a lesson from the Frenchman on a variety of topics, but specifically about self-control.

Maradona's charge into the stands at the conclusion of Al Wasl's match at Al Shabab last week was the latest example of him indulging his impulses, and not to his or Wasl's credit.

The Dubai club have mounted a vigorous defence of their coach, saying he was in the right to intervene as insults flew in the direction of his partner, Veronica Ojeda, who was in tears.

They also have done nothing to mitigate Maradona's condemnation of Shabab fans as "cowards" - a description that received global attention.

Let us assume for a moment that the insults were not initiated by a Wasl supporter who was sitting near Ojeda and two other women, as reporters at the stadium believe.

Further, let us set aside the reality that Dubai police, in strength, were already among the fans, keeping them apart.

Let us go directly to this: no footballer and, certainly, no football coach should go into the stands.


Maradona's intervention led to at least two Wasl assistants and two players also entering the stands, no doubt making the situation far more dangerous than it should have been.

At the end of the spectacle, it seemed clear that the greatest risk to anyone in that clot of humanity was not from rogue Shabab fans, but being crushed or trampled by too many people crowded into too small an area.

It is hard to imagine any football league in the world that would not penalise a coach for such dangerous behaviour.

Actually, it is hard even to find precedents. The professional coach acts as did Wenger.

The 2011/12 Pro League season has been characterised by Maradona acting out.

He is feuding with at least two coaches, Cosmin Olariou of Al Ain and Quique Sanchez Flores of Al Ahli.

He was fined Dh9,000 by the FA for insulting the former, and had the temerity to suggest the latter was responsible for the Wasl goalkeeper Majed Naser attacking him.

He has numerous times criticised his own players for poor performances, bringing to mind the aphorism about bad carpenters blaming their tools.

Wasl management also have been the object of his scorn as he has repeatedly complained about a failure to give him better players. In February, he threatened to quit if the club did not spend more next season.

To his credit, he also has demonstrated kindness. His journey to Abu Dhabi to comfort the grieving family of Theyab Awana and a long visit to a school for special-needs children speak well of him.

When he is not in the grip of his emotions, he is both insightful and entertaining.

The dark moments, however, are difficult to ignore. In January, in a remarkably candid concession, he told reporters: "My anger will always remain. I still have it deep within me."

We would expect that executives at Al Wasl regularly weigh the benefits of Maradona against the costs.

He brings the club international attention; he may have brought them new sponsorship money. Also, though, some of the recognition may now be more infamy than fame; and the club is too often put under stress by a coach at the centre of crisis after crisis.

Then there is this: a year ago, after 17 Pro League matches, Wasl were on 26 points; this year, with Maradona in charge, they are on 24.

Is Maradona worth the drama that accompanies him? At some point, Wasl will say "no".


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