When Diego Maradona played in Saudi Arabia - Arab world mourns passing of a legend

When Diego Maradona played in Saudi Arabia - Arab world mourns passing of a legend
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Diego Maradona played an exhibition match for Al-Ahli in Jeddah in 1987. (Twitter)
When Diego Maradona played in Saudi Arabia - Arab world mourns passing of a legend
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Argentine football legend Diego Maradona (L) looks at his new shirt with Marwan Bin Bayat, chairman of the Emirati al-Wasl Football Company, during a press conference in Dubai, on September 11, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Karim SAHIB KARIM SAHIB / AFP(AFP/FIle)
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Updated 26 November 2020

When Diego Maradona played in Saudi Arabia - Arab world mourns passing of a legend

When Diego Maradona played in Saudi Arabia - Arab world mourns passing of a legend
  • Saudi Arabia was lucky to witness Diego Maradona’s outrageous skills at their prime
  • Football legend went on to manage in the UAE

LONDON: The debate as to whether Diego Maradona is the best player the world has ever seen will spark back into life with the news of his death at the age of 60 on Wednesday, However, those lucky Saudi fans who saw him in action in Jeddah in 1987 will surely insist that he was the greatest. Even those who do not will join the Arab world in mourning the loss of Argentine.

Maradona is best known internationally for leading Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup when he was at the peak of his form. His performances in Mexico will never be forgotten.

 

 

So to see him in Jeddah a year later wearing the shirt of Al-Ahli was something special. He had joined to help celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary in an exhibition game against Brondby of Denmark.

Napoli, where he played every week, were unhappy that their star asset was heading to Saudi Arabia and were afraid of a possible injury, but this was Maradona and he did what he wanted, on and off the pitch with a fee of $100,000 too good to turn down.

Inspired by the star’s presence, Al-Ahli defeated their European opponents 5-2. Three were made by the South American and he scored the other two. The first was a delightful lob over the Danish goalkeeper with the second a casual flick. It sent a full house wild with delight. It wasn’t just the skill but the love of football that thrilled.

Maradona scored just once against Arab opposition but fans of Morocco will not mind that their defense was breached by the maestro in a 1994 friendly against Argentina. It was his last penultimate goal for his country and after failing a drugs test at the subsequent World Cup, he never played on the international stage again.




Diego Maradona played an exhibition match for Al-Ahli in Jeddah in 1987. (Twitter)

He did coach the Argentine squad, taking them to the last eight of the 2010 World Cup and a chastening 4-0 loss to Germany. Less than a year later, however, the then 50-year-old shocked the football world and thrilled those in the UAE and the wider region by taking over Al-Wasl. West Asia had seen better coaches with better records but there had never been a bigger football name to come and ply their trade.

I remember the buzz around the stadium in Abu Dhabi for his first game in charge at Al Jazira in September 2011. The bigger than usual crowd was swelled by media from all over the world all trying to get a word with the legend. The sheer number of microphones placed in front of the smiling South American as he talked to the press has rarely been seen in Asian football.




Diego Maradona played an exhibition match for Al-Ahli in Jeddah in 1987. (Twitter)

In truth, he was a success even before he started. The club put itself in headlines around the world. 

“From a business perspective it’s a feasible decision that makes absolute sense,” said Marwan bin Beyat, the club chairman. “The name of Al-Wasl has exploded on the worldwide radar. The publicity we are getting can be compared to the largest clubs in the world.”

On the pitch, that first game was an entertaining one but ended in a 4-3 loss for the visitors, setting the tone for the rest of the season. There was rarely a dull moment but it ended in disappointment. He was fired in July 2012 after a turbulent 14 months in charge with Al-Wasl ending the season in eighth place.




Maradona looks at his new shirt with Marwan Bin Bayat, chairman of the Emirati Al-Wasl Football Company, during a press conference in Dubai, in 2011. (AFP/FIle)

Gabriel Calderon, the former Argentine international who played with Maradona at the 1982 and 1990 World Cup, and coached in the UAE at the same time as Maradona, said his compatriot was the best player in the world.

“With him in your team then you knew that anything was possible,” Calderon, who coached Bani Yas and followed Maradona at Al-Wasl, as well as coaching in Saudi Arabia. “As a coach in UAE, he knew that it would not be easy but although he was the center of attention with the media, he just loved football, he loved  being around the players and trying to help them as much as possible. He had many happy memories of his time in UAE and I know that the fans there loved him too.” 

After Al-Wasl, Maradona wasn’t done with the UAE and took over Fujairah in the second division in 2017 but left the following year after failing to secure promotion.

That will, rightly, be a footnote as the world mourns the passing of a legend but the Arab world has its own special memories of Diego Maradona, a player who briefly shone so brightly in Saudi Arabia in 1987.


Man Utd get better of Liverpool in five-goal thriller

Man Utd get better of Liverpool in five-goal thriller
Updated 25 January 2021

Man Utd get better of Liverpool in five-goal thriller

Man Utd get better of Liverpool in five-goal thriller
  • The English champions lost a league game at Anfield for the first time

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom: Bruno Fernandes’s stunning free-kick inflicted more misery on Liverpool as Manchester United progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup with a thrilling 3-2 win at Old Tafford on Sunday.

Both sides struggled to create chances in a cagey 0-0 draw when they met in the Premier League last weekend.

But there was no repeat of that caution in a wide-open contest that ended Liverpool’s hopes of a first domestic cup win under Jurgen Klopp for another season.

The English champions lost a league game at Anfield for the first time in nearly four years to Burnley on Thursday to fall six points behind United at the top of the table.

In response, Klopp named a strong side despite making five changes as Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino returned.

Liverpool’s only goals in their previous five games came against an Aston Villa youth team in the last round of the FA Cup after Dean Smith’s side were struck down by a coronavirus outbreak.

But shades of the side that stormed to a first league title in 30 years last season were restored even if Klopp’s wait for a first win at Old Trafford goes on.

Firmino and Salah combined perfectly for the opener on 18 minutes as the Brazilian’s pass opened up the United defense and the Egyptian provided a dinked finish over Dean Henderson.

United have made a habit of coming from behind to win this season and took just eight minutes to hit back.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed Fernandes a rare rest from the start, but still picked a side packed with firepower featuring Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba.

Rashford’s raking cross-field pass just evaded James Milner and Greenwood did not look like a striker lacking confidence as he fired past Alisson Becker for his first goal in 11 games.

A number of injuries to center-backs have disrupted Liverpool’s season with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez expected to miss the rest of the season, while Joel Matip has struggled to stay fit.

Klopp has been forced to field two midfielders in Jordan Henderson and Fabinho together at the heart of the defense in recent weeks and the performance of 19-year-old Rhys Williams showed why the German has been reluctant to rely on his young center-backs.

Williams failed to cut out Greenwood’s through ball for Rashford three minutes into the second half and the England international composed himself before slotting past the advancing Alisson.

This time, United’s momentum was short-lived as Milner should have levelled for Liverpool when he spooned a glorious chance over from close range, but quickly made amends by teeing up Salah to smash home his second just before the hour mark.

Both managers turned to their match winners off the bench for the final half-hour as Klopp first turned to Sadio Mane before Fernandes made his entrance.

Trent Alexander-Arnold stung the palms of Henderson, who then saved twice from Salah as Liverpool’s attack began to click back into gear.

But it was Fernandes who won the game with a brilliant free-kick 12 minutes from time.

This week will be the first anniversary of the Portuguese’s arrival from Sporting Lisbon that has transformed United’s fortunes.

A year ago, United trailed Liverpool by 30 points in the Premier League having played two games more.

The past seven days have shown they are now more than a match for their old rivals.

Fernandes’s strike was a worthy winner of a thrilling tie as he used Pogba to unsight Alisson and fired the ball low into the Brazilian’s left-hand corner.

United will face West Ham in the last 16 next month.