Maradona Stays in Dubai as Sports 'Ambassador'

The announcement comes less than two months after Maradona was fired as coach for the Dubai club Al Wasl following the team's eighth-place finish in the 12-team UAE Pro League

By MICHAEL CASEY
|  Sunday, Sep 2, 2012  |  Updated 10:36 AM CDT
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Maradona Stays in Dubai as Sports 'Ambassador'

Diego Maradona starred on Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning team.

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Diego Maradona is not done with Dubai.

The Argentine soccer great said Sunday he has signed one-year contract to become a special sports adviser to the Dubai Sports Council. The announcement comes less than two months after Maradona was fired as coach for the Dubai club Al Wasl following the team's eighth-place finish in the 12-team UAE Pro League.

"It is a great honor for me," said the 51-year-old Maradona, appearing in a suit and tie at a press conference at the Armani Hotel in Dubai. "I promise that I will exert every effort possible to develop the sports sector in Dubai and encourage the home-grown stars to challenge the rest of the world and reflect the image of Dubai."

After Al Wasl fired him with a year left on his contract, Maradona traveled to China and talked of his desire to coach in that fast-growing market. However, he said he turned down several offers to stay in Dubai, and he wanted to repay the Gulf city for what it has done for him.

He also said he would consider extending his year-long contract should he be successful in his new, largely undefined role.

"I have got many offers but I would like to retire now or relax for some time," Maradona said, without elaborating. "The offers I got were not satisfactory."

Ahmad al-Sharif, the secretary general of the Dubai Sports Council, said Maradona's role would go beyond soccer and would aim to improve the city's sporting image as well as the performance of its athletes. The UAE won no medals at the London Olympics and has been unable to produce any top athletes in golf, tennis or athletics despite hosting many of the world's top sporting events for the past decade.

"There is no doubt that Maradona is a successful example of what sports can do to a talented individual if he shows dedication, keeps developing his talent and represents his country with honor," al-Sharif said. "With such an international position and great talent, he can do more than anyone else can do. He can reach the new generation of talented athletes and motivate them to shine and achieve greater success."

Al-Sharif called Maradona "a model" for Emirati athletes to emulate, though he did not mention anything from Maradona's sometimes troubled past or his year at Al Wasl when he often was in the headlines for disputes with rival coaches and referees rather than winning matches.

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.

Maradona starred on Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning team. He joined Al Wasl following his firing as the national team 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.

His troubled past is well documented. He battled a cocaine habit even before he retired in 1997 and once fired an air gun at reporters outside his home and was threatened with jail. He also has had running feuds with several top South American soccer stars, including Pele and Juan Roman Riquelme.

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