DUBAI As the dust settles on Diego Maradona’s sacking by Al Wasl, one simple question begs to be asked – was it worth it?
After all, the Cheetahs’ 14-month liaison with the Argentina World cup winner has not been a cheap thrill.
Maradona’s house was in one of the most exclusive parts of the Palm and it cost Dh750,000. It is very private and only those invited there can gain access to the area
To start with, there has been upwards of Dh10 million in wages at a cool Dh800,000 per month, plus the two-months’ salary he is set to receive as a result of his dismissal – another Dh1.6 million.
And all that excludes the salaries of his coaching and support personnel, also shown the exit door at the Zabeel Stadium. A conservative estimate of that cost would be at least another Dh2-3 million.
On top of that is the rental cost of the six-bedroom villa on the Palm Jumeirah. An estate agent close to the deal told XPRESS: “Maradona’s house was in one of the most exclusive parts of the Palm and it cost Dh750,000. It is very private and only those invited there can gain access to the area.”
There was also the hiring of a public relations firm to help manage the global media and public interest his presence created, and even the cost of a driver to take him around Dubai.
On that basis, it is tough to see the club getting much change out of Dh16 million from their association with Maradona.
So, what did they get for that sort of outlay?
In footballing terms, very little. The club finished eighth in the Pro League, made little impression in the domestic cup competitions and suffered a humiliating loss in the final of the Gulf Champions League when two players were sent off for violent conduct. One of them, Majed Naser, was selected by Maradona despite serving a domestic ban for slapping an opposition coach.
To make matters worse, Al Wasl’s month-long delay in sacking Maradona after the installation of a new Board – the old one resigned because of the season’s failures – means new coach Bruno Metsu now finds himself behind every other club in terms of pre-season preparations.
The club is yet to sign three of its four overseas players for next term and with Ramadan coming up Metsu now faces a race against time to be ready for the September 15 kick-off.
In other words, the failures of last season could result in more failures in the next one. If that is all a big cross against Maradona’s appointment, then commercially the recruitment was also not the goldmine some thought it might be, either. Average crowds were up by more than 2,000 but that still only lifted the figure to 5,476 per league match.
The club did sign two new sponsors after Maradona’s arrival – MAX clothing and Hublot watches – but as one source close to the club revealed: “Plenty of companies were interested in linking up but most just wanted an association with Maradona rather than with the club and if that tie-up didn’t interest Maradona then the interest cooled.”
His arrival did coincide with the upgrade of the stadium and Zabeel is now superior to many league venues in the country but that, too, has cost money.
Publicity-wise, the club exploded. It claimed worldwide coverage increased by 1600 per cent over the course of a year and that coverage was worth Dh333 million.
But that figure was just an estimate of what it would have cost to buy the coverage, not earnings for the club. The test is now whether that level of interest can be maintained now Maradona has gone. The answer is almost certainly no.
So, for Al Wasl, the bad clearly outweighs the good but Maradona did have one major beneficial effect on UAE football, bringing much-needed coverage and publicity to the game in what is, after all, a footballing backwater.
If his coming here makes the UAE an option to be considered for even one top player in the future then that is a positive everyone can take away from the past 14 months of what has been a great adventure for the game in this country.
Murgatroyd is a commentator on the Etisalat Pro League for AD Sports and Dubai Sports and a columnist for XPRESS