x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Win masks a multitude of worries for Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona's Al Wasl side who lined up at the Zabeel Stadium last night did not bring to mind a championship-calibre side.

Diego Maradona has plenty to do to improve Al Wasl's performance on the football pitch.
Diego Maradona has plenty to do to improve Al Wasl's performance on the football pitch.

The honeymoon in the professional marriage of Diego Maradona and the Al Wasl club didn't last until the first game on the league fixtures list. Good luck on those two full seasons of domestic-football bliss, as per his contract.

The day before Wasl opened their Pro League campaign last night, Maradona revealed his disappointment in his players' attendance record at training ("unprofessional", he called it), as well as his concern about management's inability to arrange the purchase of a "not very expensive" striker and his preference for a stronger batch of Emirati players.

Other than that, Wasl's celebrity coach was as content as a gaucho on the pampas.

An initial reaction, when considering Maradona's complaints, is to dismiss them as the plaintive bleats of a man still conditioned to the instant gratification of the superstar player he was for 15 years. Or of the Argentina national coach, as he was for 20 months, who could dictate the fixtures in his bathroom. Surely, he is exaggerating.

Or, could his concerns be valid? The Wasl side who lined up at the Zabeel Stadium last night did not bring to mind a championship-calibre side. At the moment, they will not be confused with Al Jazira. Or even Al Ain.

Maradona was intimately involved in the recruitment of only two of his players, Mariano Donda, the Argentine midfielder, and Juan Manuel Olivera, the Uruguayan forward, and he proved he recognises talent.

Donda and Olivera are far the best players in the team and one of the most impressive attacking duos in the league.

But after them …

Maradona had no role in the two foreigners who played in the Etisalat Cup opener a month ago. Edson Puch, the Chilean winger, was purchased by the club just weeks before Maradona's signing and Mohammed Abdullah Al Shaibah, the defender, was a holdover from last season.

It has been demonstrated time and again that buying players before hiring a coach is not a clever business practice.

The ultimate expression of the awkwardness of that situation was at Al Ahli last year, where David O'Leary arrived to find Fabio Cannavaro, Pinga and Aristide Bance already in place. He was impressed with none of them, and Ahli finished eighth, but not until after O'Leary had been sent packing back to England.

Maradona also has problems with his foreign contingent. Last night, he had Puch with him on the bench, a good place for a winger who too often has disappeared into the night. Al Shaibah? The coach decided he was not a right fit after one Cup match, and the Omani is now on loan with Al Wahda.

Which brings us to Maradona's concern over the negotiations for Richard Porta, a Uruguayan-Australian forward identified to the media more than a week ago as the coach's choice, who has finally arrived in Dubai and underwent a medical yesterday.

At kick-off, then, Wasl were one of two teams in the Pro League without a full complement of four foreigners. The other? Emirates, the little Ras Al Khaimah side widely expected to finish last. The quality of Wasl's Emirati contingent may be debated, but if we consider the national team to include the two dozen best players in the country, then Wasl do not boast a significant share of the elite Emiratis. Only two in their team on Sunday night went with the senior UAE side to South Korea - Majed Naser, the goalkeeper, and Essa Ali, the midfielder.

Contrast that with Al Wahda, Jazira or Al Ahli, who each contribute numerous players to the national side.

Maradona's concern over the Emiratis he currently has is their erratic attendance at training, which he ascribed to too many of them holding jobs or attending university. He also called for the club to move more of their players into Dubai so they can get to training more quickly. Tellingly, he complained that "in Argentina, this is very easy to do, but it is not possible here".

Certainly, then, his view of How Things Should Be at Wasl is influenced by his experiences as a player and a coach. Wasl, however, are not Napoli; nor are they Argentina's national side.

This is not the team Maradona wants. He believes Wasl can do better, and he almost certainly is correct. A 3-0 victory over Sharjah side on Sunday night did not reveal Wasl as an elite team. It masked their shortcomings, at least for one night, shortcomings their little coach knows all too well.


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