Diego Maradona looks back at his time in the UAE with 'passion and love' and urges residents to stay safe during coronavirus crisis

Former Al Wasl and Fujairah manager describes his stay in the Emirates as 'the most beautiful' of his life

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Diego Maradona has emphasised his affection for the UAE and called on residents to do whatever they can to help get through the coronavirus crisis.

The 1986 World Cup winner, currently in charge of Gimnasia in his native Argentina, spent much of the past decade in the Emirates, dating back to his 14 months as Al Wasl manager from May 2011.

He later managed Fujairah, then in the second tier of UAE football, for one year from May 2017.

Maradona, who left the Emirates after his stint with the east-coast club, has been staying at home in Argentina in line with measures taken by the government to limit the spread of the pandemic.

He says he welcomes only to his house his fitness trainer and personal doctor following his recent knee surgery.

However, in an interview with Al Ittihad newspaper, Maradona spoke of his love for the UAE and said he would one day like to return – describing his stay in the country as "the most beautiful" of his life.

“I salute all my Emirati brothers and I urge all athletes not to stop training and praying because we are all facing a great unprecedented challenge in the world,” Maradona said.

“I offer my respect and love to all the Highnesses and their families because they extended all the love, appreciation, and beautiful feelings.

"This makes me always look at the Emirates and its people with passion and love. I have never forgotten the days I spent with them.

“In the midst of the global crisis, I have been in self-isolation in my house for some time now, especially after the Argentine president had issued strict regulations in that regard.

"I ask from every citizen living in the UAE to conform to all the regulations issued by their government and stay at home until the pandemic is over.”

Maradona, 59, took the reins at Gimnasia last September with the Primera Division club in the relegation zone. After less than three months in charge, the former Barcelona and Napoli star announced he was quitting following the club president's departure, only to rejoin the team two days later.

With the Superliga shut down because of the coronavirus, Gimnasia are 19th in the standings, three places above the relegation zone.

Earlier this month, Maradona offered to take a pay cut to help the club through the current crisis. He has four months remaining on his current contract.

“I have contacted the chairman of the board [and requested] to keep training the team after the global crisis is over because I indeed would like to work with them,” Maradona said. “And I have demanded not to meddle with the players’ salary at all because it's not their fault, and to reduce my salary as he wishes to.”

Fujairah manager Diego Maradona talks to his Fujairah squad during a training session in November 2017. Christopher Pike / The National

When asked why he was determined that his players not be impacted, Maradona said: “I was a player and after my retirement I used to defend players because they have always strived to entertain the audience and make them happy in football.

“I cared about the players’ rights in every place I worked at, and this is what I have done with Al Wasl and Al Fujairah and what I am trying to do with the Gimnasia players in the Argentine League.

“I hope football will come back again to all the international stadiums because this is the worst experience we are suffering in our lives now. And I see that each one of the international leagues will choose the perfect time to come back.

“In the end, we have to protect the athletes and the nations. We will see a different world after this crisis is over in many aspects of life.”