Maradona effect lacks longevity
That great players don't necessarily make great coaches is a football cliché. That Diego Maradona was a world-class player but will never make a coach is in danger of becoming similarly well-worn. His second job since hanging up those magical boots for good has ended, as many coaching jobs do, in the sack - but the Argentine was not the flop in the United Arab Emirates that he has been made out to be. He did what was expected of him: it was just that he couldn't deliver anything more.
The general consensus is that it had to happen sooner rather than later. In the UAE, such a fate is almost unavoidable for even the best and most experienced tacticians, and Maradona lasted longer than most. It is ironic that a league regarded overseas as being a gentle semi-retirement home for older international stars to come and play for a sun-kissed season or two is also the most cut-throat coaching environment in the world.
It is just unfortunate that what happened off the pitch in those 13 months or so in Dubai was more memorable and exciting than what happened on it, but that is what you get with the Argentine. You get a genuine football legend, perhaps the best player ever to play the game, and all the kudos that gives his employers. That alone makes his appointment a big deal - but his manic personality and capability for controversy mean attention is a given even if points and prizes are not.
Back in May 2011, did Al Wasl, a team that has won the UAE title seven times but only once this century, feel they were getting the best coach available, especially when they were offering such an attractive package? They knew precisely what they were getting, and that was the Maradona experience. They paid for the name as much as any coaching talent. They got what they paid for, they got what they expected - but, perhaps, they did not get what they had hoped for.
"The name of Al Wasl has exploded on the worldwide radar," Marwan bin Bayat, then the chairman of the club and a man who had done much to bring Maradona to the Middle East and support him after he arrived, told Abu Dhabi daily The National in October 2011.
"In the past three months, there were more than 3,700 articles posted online all over the world about Al Wasl and Maradona. The club is now being followed by media from all over the world, and the publicity that we are getting can be compared to the largest clubs in the world. We believe that this has a positive impact not only on Al Wasl, but on Dubai and UAE football in general."
Controversies ensured that the spotlight never left Al Wasl for long. Maradona fell out with experienced Al Ain coach Cosmin Olaroiu after he felt the Romanian over-celebrated a goal. "I will congratulate him when he wins the league, but otherwise I don't have anything for this man," Maradona said. There was not much warmth coming the other way. "I will not bury the hatchet because he does not deserve it," Olaroiu responded.
Maradona kicked a fan, was given time off for an operation to remove kidney stones and then turned up in Shanghai two days later saying how much he'd like to work there in the future. He issued a number of ultimatums to the club about transfer funds and entered the stands at Al Shabab to confront fans who had reduced his partner to tears.
All that and more reached the eyes and ears of football lovers everywhere but, after time, the interest starts to wane - as it always does. Closer to home, local fans can't but help react to what is happening on the pitch in front of them. Big names excite at first, but the effect swiftly wears off. Harry Kewell's first games in Melbourne were massive events, but things soon settled down. The presence of Nicolas Anelka in Shanghai still makes the news in Europe but, in terms of an impact on attendances in the city, the impact is now negligible. It is one thing having a legend standing by the bench every week, but even one as entertaining and expressive as Maradona can't distract from what goes on for too long.
Al Wasl's league form was poor and the club, sixth in 2011, ended up in eighth under Maradona. That doesn't sound too bad until you remember that there are only 12 teams in the league and that, in terms of points, they were twice as close to the bottom club as they were to champions Al Ain - it was not reported whether Maradona ever did make that apology to Olaroiu.
Winning a cup would have gone down well. In June, Al Wasl had the chance and blew it. Winning the first leg of the Gulf Club Champions Cup final 3-1 against Muharraq from Bahrain saw the club with one hand on the trophy, but a disastrous second leg - two sent off and a penalty shootout defeat - was the beginning of the end. Domestic cup campaigns did not last as long, but were just as disappointing.
That penalty shootout loss was followed by the resignation of the board, including chairman bin Bayat. Maradona's new boss, Dr Mohammed Ahmad bin Fahad, gave him the dreaded vote of confidence: "Maradona is the head coach of the Al Wasl team and he will continue for the next season. He will have complete authority over the programme for the next season. There is no change in his position." And then there was, and Maradona was out of the door after 422 incident-packed days - a long time in UAE terms.
He wants to stay. "Regrettably, the club issued a statement that I do not support because my wish was and is to coach Al Wasl," he said. That seems unlikely. Already, Michael Bolton lookalike Bruno Metsu is getting ready to step into the breach.
At Al Wasl, he did the job that was asked of him. He put the club on the global map. Scores of coaches have come and gone in the Emirates after having done much less. It was Al Ain who won the championship at a canter but, around the world, it is Al Wasl that now come to mind when you mention UAE football - and that's thanks to Maradona.