DUBAI // With a mischevious glint in his eye on Saturday night, Diego Maradona, Al Wasl's Argentine coach, ridiculed Brazilian legend Pele before warning that any former players who make false accusations about him can expect a fist to the face.
Pele earlier this week told French newspaper Le Monde that Lionel Messi, despite his record of 213 goals in 300 games for Barcelona and three successive Ballon d'Or awards, has some way to go before he deserves to be compared to a three-time World Cup winner.
“When Messi's scored 1,283 goals like me, when he's won three World Cups, we'll talk about it,” said the former Santos forward. “People always ask me: 'When is the new Pele going to be born?'. Never – my father and mother have closed the factory.”
Maradona, who shared the Fifa Player of the Century award with Pele and has traded barbs with his South American rival on numerous occasions, coached Messi while in charge of the Argentina national team between 2008 and 2010. He is in no doubt Pele's assessment is wide of the mark.
“This is maybe due to old age affecting such comments,” Maradona said laughing when asked his thoughts of the 71-year-old remarks. “You can’t blame the guy, he hasn’t been doing anything for the past 20 years. I haven’t even seen him in a supermarket – I don’t know what he does.
“Usually, when you see him these days, it’s only at award ceremonies next to the president of Fifa and looking like a doll that’s being moved by remote control. His comments are no surprise.”
However, Maradona was surprised by news that Alex Perez, a former Wasl youngster who left the club last summer, claimed in a recent interview that he and several other Brazilians – including forward Alexandre Oliveira – were dismissed by the Dubai-based club at the coach's request.
Wasl officials confirmed Perez left at the end of the 2010-11 season by “mutual consent” after featuring in only a handful of games. He has since joined Santa Cruz, a Brazilian Serie D side.
“I have never met him, but was told the player wanted to leave,” Maradona said. “I do not have the liberty to fire anyone at he club; the management of Al Wasl decides these things. If I ever see this guy, I might punch him in the face.”
The Argentine coach added he has recruited a Brazilian fitness trainer from the Under-19 team.
“I try to find jobs, not get people unemployed,” Maradona said.