The firing of Diego Maradona as coach of Al Wasl will be a loss for professional football in the United Arab Emirates, the head of the country's Football Association said on Wednesday, after the former Argentina great helped put the league on the global map.
Yousuf al-Sarkal, the president of the UAE Football Association, told The Associated Press he was "disappointed" to hear that Al Wasl had fired Maradona and said he should have been given more time to turn around the Dubai club. He said that the club's failure to win any trophies and its eighth-place finish in the 12-team league cannot be solely blamed on Maradona, adding it was a "collective work involving the coach, players and management."
Maradona was fired on Tuesday after one season in charge, having signed a two-year deal in May 2011. The club's board of directors resigned in June following the poor season. The new board initially backed Maradona but on Tuesday announced that he and his technical staff had been relieved of their duties. It gave no reason and made no mention of a replacement.
Maradona was on vacation outside of Dubai when the announcement was made. He has yet to comment publicly.
Al-Sarkal was quick to say the decision to fire the 1986 World Cup winner was an internal matter for the club. But he said there was no doubt that Maradona had an impact during his year in Dubai.
"I'm disappointed," he said of the firing. "From my traveling all around the world, people talk about our league because of Maradona. They know the name of the club, the existence of the league because of Maradona. ... Of course to have an icon like Maradona in our league, it was bringing a lot of media attention to the UAE as a country and UAE football."
But al-Sarkal acknowledged that Maradona often hurt himself with his antics off the pitch.
After his first victory at Al Wasl, Maradona was forced to apologize after kicking the hand of fan. Another time, he was accused by a coach of being disrespectful for the way he celebrated a goal.
The bearded and diamond stud-wearing Maradona once charged into the stands to confront Al Shabab fans who were taunting his partner, Veronica Ojeda, and the wives of several players. He had to be restrained by security staff.
"We know during the season there were incidents where he was involved. There were incidents involving spectators where he was in the picture and that is not the role of a coach," al-Sarkal said, pointing to the Al Shabab clash. "It was not a crime scene. It was misunderstanding. Just imagine if something happened to Maradona and how that would give a negative picture for the league, for our football."
Maradona starred on Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning team. He joined Al Wasl following his firing as the national coach of Argentina, where he had mixed results. Before becoming coach of his home country in 2008, he coached Argentine first-division clubs Deportivo Mandiyu in 1994 and Racing Club in 1995.