Diego Maradona was hired on Monday to coach United Arab Emirates (UAE) club al-Wasl on a two-year contract, a move the club hopes will boost its prospects and attract more sponsors and fans to the domestic league.
Maradona, who has been out of coaching since leading Argentina to the World Cup quarter--finals last year, will be in charge when the next season opens in September.
“Al-Wasl Sports Club has become synonymous with achievements of this caliber, and we are very pleased to be welcoming Maradona to a long line of accolades in the club’s history,” vice chairman Marwan bin Bayat said in a statement. “This partnership embodies the vision of the club as it embraces forward thinking developments in the region to establish unprecedented standards for the sport.”
The 50-year-old Maradona visited the club’s training facility on Saturday and had been in talks for several days. Dressed in a polo shirt, shorts and baseball cap, the tattooed Maradona blew kisses to fans who mobbed him and chanted his name as he watched the team practice.
He didn’t talk to reporters and the club said he left on Sunday for Spain to attend his daughter’s birthday party in Madrid. He is expected to return to Dubai next month.
Al-Wasl officials would not disclose details of the contract, saying only that it was for two years and that he would be responsible for leading the club “to new heights.”
Al-Wasl is currently fourth in the domestic league, which ends next month, and has been looking for a coach since firing Sergio Farias in March. The top four teams in the league qualify for next season’s Asians Champions League.
The sports club, which includes the soccer team is chaired by Sheik Ahmed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is a brother of the Dubai ruler. Al-Wasl is considered one of the top clubs in Dubai, but hasn’t won anything since 2007 when it won the title of the former UAE league, which included mainly amateur clubs, and the UAE Presidents Cup in the same year. The league turned fully professional three years ago.
The signing of the Maradona is one of the biggest for the fledging UAE professional league, which is only in its third season. Last year, Dubai club al-Ahli signed and subsequently fired former Leeds and Aston Villa manager David O’Leary. It also signed former Juventus captain Fabio Cannavaro, who remains with the club though he is out injured.
Carlo Nohra, the league’s chief executive, called the hiring of Maradona “welcome news” for a 12-team league that has seen its attendance grow this year by 30 percent.
“Maradona’s football credentials speak for themselves, and whilst it’s too early for us to judge what this appointment will mean for the league or the club, his profile and popularity have undoubtedly brought focus to the League, which is as a positive thing,” Nohra said.