Argentina icon Diego Maradona’s passion for coaching continues to burn bright and his priority remains finding a new UAE club for 2018/19, despite a rollercoaster recent exit from Arabian Gulf League-prospects Fujairah.
The in-demand, joint FIFA Player of the Century has fielded two offers from First Division League clubs, plus overtures from international and South American outfits, amid tumultuous negotiations with the Wolves which featured several shock U-turns prior to Thursday’s definitive end.
Maradona, 57, stunningly left his position with the undefeated Wolves within hours of a 1-1 draw against 10-man Khor Fakkan on April 27 which saw them drop out of the automatic promotion spots to the top flight.
An announcement followed from the east coast-side three days later about a shock comeback, but talk of a new one-year deal was quickly rubbished by the legendary ex-Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli forward’s lawyer.
Fujairah then tweeted a message which stated requests for his “contract to be quadrupled” had caused discussions to be terminated ahead of the play-offs.
Ex-Dibba Al Fujairah, Al Dhafra and UAE Under-23 tactician Abdullah Mesfer was announced on Saturday as the man who will lead them on May 9 and 13 versus the AGL’s bottom-placed side, Hatta.
However, sources close to the legendary World Cup 1986 winner have rejected the claim. They also reiterate an ambition for a third stint in the Emirates – he was previously dismissed by Dubai’s Al Wasl midway through a two-year arrangement in July 2012.
“Maradona enjoyed his time at Fujairah,” they told Sport360. “He made a big effort, travelling nearly 400 kilometres every day.
“He didn’t care about this distance. As soon as he walked onto the training pitch, he was happy.
“It is no surprise to say someone like Diego has received offers from all over the world. But his priority is the UAE.
“He feels comfortable there and wants to continue. We were also very surprised to hear the reasons why Fujairah said they ended talks.”
Reverberations were felt across the globe last May when Maradona agreed to end his five-year exile from the dugout and lead the ambitious Wolves for 2017/18.
But profligacy in front of goal saw a draining 11 draws registered. Their final-day stalemate caused them to be critically knocked into third place by Ittihad Kalba.
Fujairah have announced they’ve ended negotiations to bring Diego Maradona back as manager, claiming he was asking for quadruple the salary from his original contract.
The 57-year-old left his position hours after the Wolves’ 1-1 draw with Khorfakkan last Friday, but then appeared to be reinstated three days later when the club announced his shock return.
However, Maradona’s lawyer Matias Morla rejected Fujairah’s announcement that he was to stay on as manager.
The two parties were then locked in talks to find a resolution, but on Thursday, Fujariah announced on Twitter that the deal was over.
“After guidance from the club president, negotiations had begun with Maradona to renew his contract,” the statement read. “He indicated his agreement to renew the contract under the same rules as his current contract. He promised that he would come to training the following day and sign the contract, as confirmed by voice notes he sent to players.
“A few hours later, his lawyer stopped negotiations and asked for his contract to be quadrupled and requested that no one contact him, even through a special translator. So we announce that negotiations have ceased with Maradona and we wish him the best.”
The UAE’s most-decorated club appear set for another glorious end to the season.
They ended a near three-year wait for silverware last month with a dominant, record-extending 13th Arabian Gulf League crown – wrapped up with a game to spare. Thursday’s prestigious clash at Zayed Sports City against the Cheetahs – who are determined to end an eight-year trophy drought – is the next challenge, prior to an intense two-legged tie versus QNB Stars League champions Al Duhail to make the 2018 AFC Champions League’s quarter-finals on May 8 and 15.
“We are aiming to achieve all our goals in this season,” said 34-year-old UAE centre-back Ahmed. “After we finished the league, all our focus now is on making our fans happy in the most-prestigious tournaments [President’s Cup and AFC Champions League].
“The sense of responsibility in challenging for the title is a weapon for all the players against Al Wasl.
“Our motivation and confidence is high to win the President’s Cup, especially as this coincides with the Golden Jubilee of Al Ain and the Year of Zayed.”
In contrast, Wasl’s last trophy was the 2009/10 GCC Champions League. Prior to this, defeat to Al Ain in the 2006 President’s Cup decider was followed by a league and cup double a year later.
Fortunes and hopes have increased exponentially since June 2016’s arrival of coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena. Their second-placed finish in the 2016/17 top flight gained qualification to the ACL for the first time in a decade.
They embarrassingly lost all six Group C matches in that competition. But they went close with a 2-1 defeat to Al Wahda in the 2017/18 Arabian Gulf Cup showpiece, while they held onto third in the AGL.
قسمت مدرجات الاستاد مناصفة بين جمهور العين، وتكون البوابات، السفلية التي تحمل الأرقام "8، 12، 20، 24 و28 والعلوية التي تحمل الأرقام 11 و25 أما العائلات بوابة 4، فيما ستفتح أمام جماهير الوصل البوابات التي تحمل الأرقام 29، 33، 37، 43، 47 والعلوية 32 و48 أما العائلات فسيحمل الرقم 53 pic.twitter.com/icAbQtILmw— UAEFA (@uaefa_ae) May 2, 2018
This followed a drastic downturn in form. They were unbeaten leaders in the first half of the top flight, but lost five of their last 11 fixtures.
Arruabarrena, 42, paid homage to a squad possessed of “great enthusiasm and passion”, who confound incorrect tropes given to him before walking out at Zabeel Stadium.
He said: “The upcoming match against Al Ain in the final of the President’s Cup will be a very important match for the team, especially as the team is hungry to win titles and make historic achievements.
“I was told when I joined that I would find disgruntled players who did not follow the training schedule. But I found men, with great ability and who take responsibility.
“They also have great enthusiasm and passion to lead the team to the place that fits them, so I think that the players deserve to be in the final against Al Ain.”
The Cheetahs will have to do without suspended midfielder Abdullah Al Naqbi, who struck the only goal in Sunday’s 1-0 league win at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club. Ex-Al Ain full-back Hazza Salem is injured.
For their opponents, UAE forward Ahmed Khalil is likely to drop out of the XI so Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat and 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman can wreak havoc.
Sweden No9 Marcus Berg’s quartet in the preceding 5-0 thrashing of Al Dhafra saw him top the AGL scoring charts with 25 goals.
“No matter how many finals I have won, even though I am the most prolific coach in Croatia, I am eager to gain more achievements with Al Ain and I hope we can win the trophy,” said coach Zoran Mamic.
In two AGL meetings this season, the sides played out an opening-day 2-2 draw in Al Ain and a 3-1 win for the visitors to Dubai.