Dubai: It was a humid afternoon in May last year when Diego Maradona’s tryst with Dubai began. An innocuous press statement from Al Wasl Club said the Argentinian legend would be visiting the club for a dekko of some of their new facilities — a reason that did not sound convincing.
The prospect of seeing him in the flesh drew me to the club nonetheless, where the man came at least a couple of hours after the appointed time, but left everybody charmed. As the handful of journalists were left whinging that he had no time for a few soundbytes, an also-ran official gave it away sheepishly: “Soon, you will get so much opportunities to talk to him that you will get bored.”
A year had passed since then, but the last thing colleagues who frequented the club as part of their weekly ‘beat’ felt was boredom. He could be funny, rude or even exasperating at the same time but with Maradona, there was never a dull moment.
The writing was very much on the wall for a better part of last season for it’s given that there’s no place for a coach who is a failure, even if he is El Diego. His relationship with the club’s board which appointed him hit many a trough over the last year, but Al Wasl’s dilemma was they did not want to be seen as the party to make the first move in terminating football’s ultimate brand name as coach.
After all, when the Zabeel outfit went for broke last year to get him, it was very much a question of bragging rights since the great man’s coaching credentials vis-a-vis his reputation as a footballer were like chalk and cheese. His brand value had, as expected, turned the attention of the world’s media towards the club and the country’s domestic football scene — apart from generating substantial commercial revenue for his employers.
The club have, on their part, timed their decision to go for a new manager well — with two full months left before the new begins. They will go for a high profile name to boost the morale of the fans but surely enough, it will not be easy for them to settle down into life after Maradona.
For a year, the cliché of no one being bigger than the game (or club) did not really hold true in the case of Al Wasl. It will no longer be the case as the new coach tries to resurrect the team’s fortunes.