By Ahmed Rizvi www.thenational.ae
Diego Maradona already had an offer from Al Wasl on the table when he arrived in Dubai on Saturday from the Chechen Republic, a club official said.
Officially, Maradona was visiting the country “to witness the latest developments” at the club, but Ashraf Mohammed, Al Wasl’s chief executive, confirmed the Argentine great, 50, was in Dubai to discuss an offer they had made earlier.
“If you think about it, nobody comes and visits a country for a day,” Mohammed said. “What can he see in one day? So he had come with the intention of discussing the offer we had made earlier.”
Maradona visited Al Wasl twice on Saturday, first getting a tour of the club’s facilities before returning in the evening to meet the players. Afterward, he visited the Dubai Mall, where he was swarmed by hundreds of fans who recognized the man selected by Fifa as the joint Player of the Century.
Mohammed said the club was thrilled by the visit.
“I was so excited when he accepted our invitation. We couldn’t believe he was coming,” Mohammed said. “So the invitation was the first step; we knew we were moving in the right direction. We moved quietly, professionally, without announcing anything.
“We had to conceal it [the offer to Maradona] and say he is on a visit.
“He said to me, ‘if I like it, I will say yes.’ When he came here and saw the city and the club, he liked it and signed the deal.”
Maradona was certainly not short of offers since parting ways with the Argentina team after the 2010 World Cup. He had been linked to the national teams of Iran and Ukraine, but the city of Dubai, it seems, won his heart.
He stayed overnight at the Zabeel Sarai hotel on the Palm, and visited the Atlantis hotel, the Armani hotel and the Burj Khalifa, where he dined at the Atmosphere restaurant on the 122nd floor.
“This is paradise,” he was quoted as saying in the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarin.
“The infrastructure of Dubai, the image of Dubai and the support of the government played a huge role,” Mohammed said. “So first I should thank the government of Dubai for all their support in making this possible. I thank the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan, and Sheikh Ahmed, the chairman and founder of Al Wasl, for the trust and belief they showed in us.
“With their help and support, we managed to put all the puzzles together. I don’t want anyone to refer this success to me personally. We are all one on this. Credit will come to Al Wasl, but this is a success for the entire Gulf region because this is the first time he will coach outside his territory.”
Carlo Nohra, the chief executive of the Pro League, said he knew Maradona was coming to visit Al Wasl, but had no idea that he would become the highest profile addition to the league.
“I got a call at one point last week … telling me that Maradona would visit their club and when,” he said. “That’s all I knew about the situation. The next thing I knew, it was in the papers.”
The arrival of Maradona will raise the profile of Al Wasl in the footballing world and Mohammed said they are ready for the media scrutiny. Maradona will be presented at a press conference during the first week of June.
Zayed Abbas, head of individual sports at Al Wasl, said the arrival of the World Cup winner will transform the club.
“Maradona is one of the greatest names in the world of sports,” Abbas said. “We could not believe it when we first heard this. I can’t imagine what’s going to happen at the club once he is here.
“It’s like having a Michael Jackson running around the fields. It’s going to be crazy at the club. It will be the place to be. We will be able to see him every single day, for as many hours as we want.
“We feel proud to be a part of Al Wasl club and we feel proud to have the management that we have today.”