Fired up Argentina legend Diego Maradona has vowed to make it “an impossible task” for anyone to beat his Fujairah side, as one of football’s most-iconic figures prepares to end a long absence from the dugout.
Maradona, 56, stunned the globe a week ago when a surprise one-season deal was announced to coach the Wolves for 2017/18. This means the storied ex-Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli superstar will be in charge of an outfit in First Division League, five years since he was sacked by top-flight Al Wasl.
Speaking at Al Diar Siji Hotel in his new city on the east coast of the UAE, El Pibe de Oro reinforced an ambition to guide the Wolves back to glory.
“I want to achieve the goals and desires of the people of Fujairah, as well as all our aspirations,” said the controversial World Cup 1986 winner with La Albiceleste.
“Fujairah is my top-priority project and I will give it all my time, nothing else will distract me.
“Those who think of beating Fujairah will have to beat Maradona. I will make this an impossible task for everyone.
“Mentally, we are very strong. From the first moment we spoke, this house has become my house.
“There is a great blend here, between the technical and tactical aspects. I have been provided great support to achieve success here.
“I have received many other offers. But as I said, honestly, I am a son of Dubai and son of the UAE.”
Fujairah finished fourth last term, two places and nine points away from the promotion spots. They enjoyed a two-year spell in the Arabian Gulf League from 2014-16.
The man trying to lead them back to the Emirates’ premier competition is widely considered one of the sport’s greatest players, but a coach with a patchy record.
Despite this chequered reputation, Maradona insists he was not short of options to get back into management. His previous trophyless tenure with Wasl was terminated midway through a two-year arrangement.
He said: “I received invitations from many places, Kazakhstan and Russia for example.
“But I have told my agent to stop, as my only agent now is Fujairah.
“Football doesn’t know fear, it knows joy and entertainment. Unfortunately, I am 56-years old and I am not able to play anymore.”
Maradona has spent the last seven years living in Dubai after his contract with Argentina was terminated following a disappointing quarter-final exit at World Cup 2010.
Apart from Wasl, who he yesterday claimed “fooled” him, Maradona also worked as an ambassador for Dubai Sports Council. A penchant for quarrelsome behaviour continued throughout this time and reappeared once again.
“The UAE saved me from [disgraced ex-FIFA president Sepp] Blatter and [deceased former Argentine Football Association president Julio] Grondona,” Maradona claimed. “They opened the doors when all other doors were closed because of them.
“It is not about money, it is about feelings.”
No sooner was he celebrating leading the club to a first league title in six years, Henk ten Cate admitted he may not be in charge of newly-crowned Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira next season.
The Dutchman, who revealed he rejected a chance to replace Danny Blind as Netherlands boss just two weeks ago, picked up the AGL crown last night as the Pride of Abu Dhabi ended a glorious season by easing to a 4-0 win against Al Dhafra.
But, in his post-match press conference, the 62-year-old admitted he will discuss his future with his family, who he been living separately from since taking the reins at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium 18 months ago at the request of close friend and former chairman of the board of directors of Al Jazira, Buti Al Qubaisi.
“First of all it’s not sure that I continue,” said Ten Cate, the former Ajax coach.
“I’m thinking about it. My family is in Europe and I originally came here for six months to help my friend Buti. And it’s now already 18 months so I don’t know if I’m going to continue. I’m going to discuss this with my family first.
“Of course, Al Jazira is a fantastic club and the success we had with this team makes me want to have more. And there is a Club World Cup coming up and everyone wants to participate in that.
“I’m at the end of my career, really. I’m not at the beginning, so things like this you discuss with your family and I will.”
Under Ten Cate’s guidance, utter disaster was averted in 2015/16 when the ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant replaced former hero Abel Braga, who had led Jazira to their last title, in 2010/11.
However, his second spell in charge was an unmitigated disaster, with Ten Cate taking over at Christmas 2015 with Jazira in 13th place in the table and staring a relegation battle in the face.
Ten Cate revealed how he was persuaded to stay on following leading Jazira to President’s Cup glory against Al Ain last May.
“Maybe I look younger than I do but I’m 62. I already stopped. I’d stopped coaching when Buti called me,” Ten Cate added.
“He’s the guy who constructed this team, the staff. I didn’t bring any staff and he did a fantastic job because we coped really well together.
“This is not my championship, this is our championship. It’s nice to get credit but it’s not fair to the others. Everyone played their part. Buti never gets any credit, he’s never mentioned but he put this whole thing together.
“He’s a long term friend of mine and he asked me to help him 18 months ago. I took the plane after speaking with him on Boxing Day and came for six months.
“We then won the President’s Cup and he asked me to stay on one year longer. I had to speak to my family and they agreed, but I don’t know if they’re going to agree now. I’m an old man and I’m tired.
“If I stop I stop definitely. I’m not coming in and out. I made an exception for Mr Buti when we were 13th and almost dropped out of the league, but now we are in a solid position and it’s good.”
Al Jazira ended a triumphant 2016/17 campaign with all the style, panache and ease that saw them saunter to just a second ever Arabian Gulf League title.
At this stage 12 months ago, Henk ten Cate’s mid-season rescue act saw him steer the Abu Dhabi giants away from the distinct possibility of relegation to the safety of seventh place after the much-heralded second coming of Abel Braga ended in ignominy.
Now, they are celebrating lifting just a second UAE title since football was introduced to the country way back in 1973/74.
The Abu Dhabi giants are among the three biggest clubs in the Emirates along with Al Ain and Al Ahli, but are just seventh in terms of most successful – the likes of Al Wasl (seven), Sharjah (five), Al Wahda (four) and Al Nasr and Al Shabab (both three) have all lifted more league championships.
Jazira have blown through eight coaches since Braga led them to their maiden triumph in 2010/11 – including Braga again – as they’ve obsessively searched for consistent success.
But it has taken a man with the pedigree of having coached Dutch giants Ajax and been assistant at European heavyweights Barcelona and Chelsea to earn a second crown, while Jazira’s triumph, perhaps more importantly, breaks a five-year monopoly on the trophy by the Boss and Red Knights.
Ten Cate has certainly restored pride to the Pride of Abu Dhabi – last year’s President’s Cup win also helps – and Jazira’s fans and hierarchy will no doubt have been pleased in recent weeks to hear the enigmatic Dutchman distance himself from replacing Danny Blind as Oranje head coach.
“We won the season in style and I’m really pleased with the way it went,” said the 62-year- old, who revealed post-match that he couldn’t be kept too long as the team were embarking on a night-time open-top bus of the city with the AGL trophy being paraded.
“We started a little nervously which was funny as we’d already won the championship, but we regrouped and scored some fantastic goals. It’s a different emotion for me. I was really excited after Hatta but we didn’t celebrate. We waited until tonight.”
Despite their dominance domestically this season, Ten Cate believes his team can still reach new heights.
“I think this team is maybe only at 80-85 per cent,” he added. “I think there is more for them to take. I hope it’s the beginning, not the end.”
The game was of course a formality. ‘Champions 2016/17’ banners adorned the stands, while red, white and black balloons were released as the two teams took to the pitch.
With Al Dhafra having nothing to play for and the title sewn up previously at Hatta, the hardest the home players had to work was when an avalanche of paper placards cascaded down upon them after Ali Mabkhout, who else, opened the scoring after 20 minutes.
Fares Juma’s header was parried by Abdulla Sultan, but only into the path of the lethal Mabkhout, whose strike was arguably the easiest of his 32 in 26 league games this season.
Khalfan Mubarak had a fine game and tapped in the second to add to his burgeoning reputation, while Mabkhout proved he can also provide too as he unselfishly teed up Mbark Boussoufa for a third on the stroke of half time which put the game to bed.
Mabkhout, fittingly, had the final say, setting the seal on a magnificent season both collectively and individually with a 33 rd goal in 26 games.
He has now scored 134 times in 222 league games for Jazira. Strikingly, though, he has 71 in 73 over the course of the last three seasons.
Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium was raucous for a change, with 17,351 crammed in, comfortably the biggest attendance of the campaign.
The stadium was plunged into darkness upon the final whistle as the trophy was presented to a team that has shone far brighter than any of their opponents this season.
The challenge now will be to sustain that success. Nobody connected with Jazira will want to wait another six years for the third AGL crown.