Dubai: Diego Maradona’s Al Wasl tenure ended in July without fanfare, one year into a two-year contract.
The club finished eighth in the Etisalat Pro League, their lowest ranking in seven years, and lost in the final of the GCC Champions League against Bahrain’s Al Muharraq, despite being 3-1 up on aggregate after the first leg in Manama.
In all, Maradona came away from the whole experience with his already questionable coaching career in tatters. His managerial highlight, after short spells in Argentina with Mandiyu de Corrientes and Racing Club de Avellaneda, had up until now been a modest quarter-final finish with Argentina at the 2010 World Cup.
However, the memory of Maradona the player, a 1986 World Cup winner, who made his name playing for Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli, has lived on in the memory of football fans. And it’s his power as a personality rising from adversity that has seen him forgiven many a discrepancy, and enamoured himself to all.
Glimpses of this outshone the football last season, with Maradona present at everything from prison football tournaments to the openings of specialist children’s centres, and it was perhaps the fallout from such publicity that helped his tenure last as long as it did and evoked such outcry when his contract was finally terminated, albeit so expectedly.
In utilising Maradona the man, Dubai Sports Council can benefit from the continued publicity that Al Wasl benefited from off the pitch, despite so much disappointment on it.
The club announced a 1,600 per cent increase in global media exposure during Maradona’s reign, which was estimated to be worth Dh333 million, while the half-season return on investments of Dh27 million were also lauded, along with a 100 per cent year-on-year gate increase of Dh600,000.
However, it is his ability to light up a room and infuse optimism and self-importance among the youth, which the media largely overlooked last year, that may just be the added X-Factor Dubai needs as it heightens its desire to bring more world-class sporting events to the region, headlined by the emirate’s 2024 Olympic ambition.