Al Wasl fires Diego Maradona

Updated: July 10, 2012, 6:33 PM ET
Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Diego Maradona was fired as coach of Al Wasl on Tuesday after a season in which the soccer club finished in eighth place in a 12-team league and even failed to win a second-tier competition.

The former Argentine great had one year left on his contract. The club's board of directors met Tuesday and released a statement, saying it was "decided to terminate his services and his technical staff." A successor was not announced.

Maradona was on vacation outside Dubai and could not be reached for comment.

Expectations were great when Maradona arrived in Dubai on a two-year deal in May 2011. He was popular with fans and helped put United Arab Emirates soccer on the map, but his team did not qualify for next season's Asian Champions League or win any domestic titles.

"I was supposed to come here and meant to work and work hard and achieve something," Maradona said at a news conference this year. "It's not about Maradona coming here and rating him as being success or unsuccessful. My intention was not to come here and have an easy going time and spend it on the beach. I'm very happy to be here. It's a good chance for me. I believe in living in the moment."

The final straw appears to have been the team's failure in the GCC Champions League at the end of the season after winning the first leg of the final against Bahrain's Al Muharraq 3-1.

Al Wasl returned home and it was expected Maradona would win his first trophy as club manager. Team President Sheik Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a brother of the Dubai ruler, even turned up for the first time this season to join the anticipated celebration.

But the Bahraini club won the match 3-1 against nine-man Al Wasl. Two players on the Dubai club, including the goalkeeper, were ejected for head-butting opponents. With the teams tied on total goals, Al Muharraq won the title 5-4 on penalty kicks.

The loss led to the board of directors resigning, fueling speculation Maradona would quit. Among those who left was Marwan bin Bayat, who was instrumental in signing Maradona. New board chairman Mohammad Ahmad bin Fahad had to dismiss as a "mistake" reports last month that Maradona resigned.

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.

While Maradona didn't deliver on the field, he provided plenty of antics in a league long overshadowed by those in other parts of the Gulf and across Asia.

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.

Off the field, Maradona spent much of his time at his villa -- a sharp contrast to a man who battled a cocaine habit before he retired in 1997 and once fired an air gun at reporters outside his home. He seemed to miss his family, repeatedly hinting toward the end of the season he might not want to return if the club didn't improve its roster.

As the losses piled up, he lamented the lack of talent but refused to accept responsibility for the team's troubles. He insisted he had done all he could with the players he was given, and that he would be "sad" if he had to leave without being able to finish what he started.


Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press