Diego Maradona exclusive interview: Football genius on Fujairah mission, UAE desire and coaching style

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Diego Maradona drilling his Fujairah players during training on Monday (Ammar Ali).

    “Arriba, arriba, arriba, arriba.”

    It is an hour into Monday’s training session at Fujairah Club Stadium and Diego Maradona is not happy.

    A full-team passing drill that culminates with a four-on-one keeps going in the outnumbered goalkeeper’s favour.

    “Arriba, arriba, arriba, arriba.”

    More zip, more accuracy is demanded. Both on this balmy April evening and in Friday’s looming pressure clash at fourth-placed Al Hamriya if the undefeated Wolves are to hang onto their automatic ticket out of First Division League.

    The far reaches of the UAE’s east coast appears an incongruous place to witness the resurrection of a footballing master.

    He was the squat forward blessed with such divine technique, nimble movement and rebellious spirit that exalted status as FIFA’s joint Player of the 20th Century alongside Brazil’s Pele would be granted.

    “El Pibe de Oro” (“The Golden Boy”) from the slums of Villa Fiorito who earned sporting immortality by lifting third-rate Napoli to riotous success in Serie A and single-handedly – quite literally, too – inspired Argentina to their unexpected triumph at World Cup 1986.

    Maradona had become a stranger to this game that defined him. He last graced a dugout in 2011/12, an ill-fated stint at Al Wasl in the Arabian Gulf League ending with post-season dismissal.

    That is before May’s shock appointment on a one-year deal as coach for second-division Fujairah.

    Passion took him there. It also provides inspiration every day on the 400-kilometre round trip from Dubai’s The Palm Jumeirah and during each training session.

    Maradona could have chosen the easy way afforded by unquenched adulation and lucrative sponsors’ gigs. That has never been his style.

    “I can speak very positively as I am very proud of our project,” the iconic 57-year-old exclusively tells Sport360°. “This project that we have brought to Fujairah.

    “Until now, we cannot talk about success as we haven’t got it yet. But we are working to get this objective, with the promotion.

    “This experience is fantastic, because the perfume of the grass it was with me all my life. I think five years without coaching is too much.

    “I think it could also be punishment from FIFA because when I say ‘white’, they say ‘black’, and when I say ‘black’, they say ‘white’.”

    By the time Maradona hung up his hallowed boots for the last time in 1997 after an emotive stint back at Boca Juniors, brief tastes of management had been gained at Mandiyu and Racing Club.

    A rollercoaster two-year spell with Argentina tested the faith of an adoring public more than a decade later. They stuck with him during a tense qualification to World Cup 2010.

    The Argentine Football Association’s belief then critically wavered after Germany’s quarter-final rout in the tournament itself.

    Now, the challenge at Fujairah is all-consuming.

    With two matches left in 2017/18, the Wolves’ reside in the crucial second-and-final guaranteed berth courtesy of a superior head-to-head record against Ittihad Kalba.

    If they hold their nerve – penalties were missed in the last four games, contributing to a draining 10 draws in total – then a return to the top flight for the first time since 2015/16 will be ample reward.

    Maradona’s future is tied into this quest. Interest from within the UAE and abroad has been registered already with his representatives about next term, but a desire burns to see the job through in the top flight.

    He says: “The possibility exists to stay with Fujairah. If we get the promotion, we can renew one more year.

    “But that will be known only when the season is finished. Sure, I will speak with the members of the board to get better conditions.

    “I have given everything to the players, as they are the ones who put their efforts in on the pitch.”

    Maradona (r) still provides an active presence in training (Ammar Ali).

    Maradona (r) still provides an active presence in training (Ammar Ali).

    Maradona has become a keen observer of UAE football during seven years of residency.

    His adopted Whites are currently stuttering into January 2019’s Asian Cup on home soil under miserly Italian tactician Alberto Zaccheroni.

    This is a post of interest to ‘El Diego’.

    “Too many things I could do,” he replies when asked about the job. “First of all, I know the players – and this is fundamental.

    “After that, for any coach, it can be good for him to be the coach for the seleccion [the national squad] of the UAE. I like the UAE team too much.

    “Yes, for sure [I would like to coach the UAE]. We focus on the most high, and for that reason we have the capacity to reach to the seleccion of the UAE.”

    The world knows everything about Maradona, the player. Who is Maradona, the coach?

    He says: “I like my players. At training, we train with the ball and only a little running without the ball.

    “This is because you cannot do those things during the match.

    “I told my players to have the training the same way as the matches. I don’t like to compare myself with other coaches.”

    Maradona’s methods are working in Fujairah. They forced AGL champions-elect Al Ain to fight all the way in last week’s creditable 4-2 President’s Cup quarter-final loss.

    Next up are Al Hamriya, who were beaten 2-1 in February’s prior meeting. Repeat this and the campaign should have a joyous finale when fifth-placed Khor Fakkan visit on April 27.

    “I hope to have this pleasure, to get this promotion with Fujairah,” Maradona says. “This is because the players are doing their best efforts and working very well.

    “The coaching staff joined us in another land and we promised each other to give everything in the project. Now, we are in the second position and with very big dignity and effort.

    “I think if we get this promotion, we could change too many things. This is because we have to give a guarantee to the people and usually because these people have their hearts in their hands.”

    Maradona has experienced more, arguably, than any other football figure. Lived a life rich in both celebration and controversy.

    Progression with Fujairah will stand as the most-surprising achievement yet.