Maradona invited to Al Wasl "farewell ceremony"

DUBAI Thu Jul 12, 2012 12:16am BST

Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona, coach of UAE's Al-Wasl, claps after his team scored against Qatar's Al Khor during their GCC Champions League soccer match in Doha May 30, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous

Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona, coach of UAE's Al-Wasl, claps after his team scored against Qatar's Al Khor during their GCC Champions League soccer match in Doha May 30, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Mohammed Dabbous

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Diego Maradona has been invited to a 'farewell ceremony' by United Arab Emirates club Al Wasl after they sacked him as coach, a senior official said on Wednesday.

The club added that the ceremony would “reflect the unique and strong relationship" between them and the mercurial Argentine.

The 51 year-old World Cup winner's two-year contract, signed in May 2011, was terminated on Tuesday by the club's board after a trophy-less season that saw Al Wasl finish eighth in the 12-team UAE Pro League.

"We have not decided on a timeframe (for the ceremony) and it depends on Maradona's response," club vice-chairman Mohammed bin Dokhan told reporters through an interpreter.

He said Maradona, who was sacked with all his support staff, had not yet replied.

Some hours later, however, Maradona published a statement on his personal website (www.diegomaradona.com) thanking Al Wasl for the chance they had given him to be their coach and suggesting they could still reach an agreement about signings to strengthen the team.

"It was always my wish to stay in that wonderful land that so welcomed me and I am totally grateful to the sheikh, especially for having received me and given me the opportunity to coach a team from the Emirates," he said.

"Unfortunately, the club made a statement that I don't agree with, because my wish was and is to carry on coaching Al Wasl and if it is impossible for the club to buy players, due to a lack of budget, there will also be the possibility to discuss that together with the board and seek solutions," he added.

"I hope to have a meeting soon with the board...(and) I am quite sure they will be well disposed to do so and we will come to a good agreement."

Bin Dokhan said four or five names were on the table to replace Maradona and an announcement was likely within a week.

One of them was Bruno Metsu, who coached the UAE to victory in the 2007 Gulf Cup and won the AFC Champions League with Al Ain in 2003. Metsu also coached Senegal to a notable win over France in the opening match of the 2002 World Cup.

'RIGHT TIME'

Defending the decision to terminate Maradona's contract, bin Dokhan said the time had been right.

"We cannot deny Diego Maradona is the best technical footballer all over the world and he is a qualified coach but we are looking for someone to win a championship for Al Wasl in the next stage," he added.

"We are not happy to terminate the contract but we should always keep away emotion and work for the sake of Al Wasl. The Board acts for the sake of Al Wasl and in the interests of Al Wasl to put Al Wasl back on the right track."

The closest Al Wasl, which last won the domestic league title in 2007, came to success last season was in reaching the final of the Gulf Champions League.

However, having won the first match against Bahrain side Al Muharraq 3-1, Maradona's side capitulated in the second leg in Dubai, having two players sent off en route to a 3-1 loss before defeat on penalties.

"Maybe it was a reason to terminate, the result of that match," said bin Dokhan.

Maradona's sacking came a month after he received a vote of confidence from the chairman of a newly constituted board, appointed after the mass resignation of the previous one following the lack of on-field success.

Bin Dokhan denied that Tuesday's announcement was a U-turn.

Maradona's sacking continues his modest record as coach, one that is in complete contrast to his time as a player.

In addition to his World Cup-winner's medal, Maradona enjoyed league title successes in Argentina, Italy and Spain but as a coach he has yet to achieve any such highs.

He had brief spells with Mandiyu and Racing Club in his home country in 1994 and 1995 respectively but neither proved successful. Although he led Argentina to the World Cup finals in 2010, his side lost 4-0 to Germany in the quarter-finals.

(Additional reporting by Rex Gowar in London; Editing by Alan Baldwin and Alison Wildey)

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