'If you don't work hard, you won't be in team'

Coach Diego Maradona spoke to his Al Wasl players and staff with the help of a translator, but the Argentine legend's message was still loud and clear.
Coach Diego Maradona, in black shirt, jokes around with his Al Wasl players during a practice session in Dubai.
Coach Diego Maradona, in black shirt, jokes around with his Al Wasl players during a practice session in Dubai.

Diego Maradona laid down the law to his Al Wasl players at their first team meeting this week with the warning: "If you don't work hard, you won't be in my team."

Humaid Yousuf, the Dubai club's team manager, said the Argentine put over a strong message to the squad on Thursday night when he introduced himself to his new charges before a two-hour training session at their sporting complex beside Zabeel Stadium.

Maradona spoke to the group for about 15 minutes, telling them about how the team would play in this upcoming season and what he demanded from them in terms of work ethic.

The Wasl players probably knew this already. For the past two weeks, under the watchful eye of the fitness coach Xavier Vilamitjana, they have endured intense double training sessions almost every day - which some have found exhausting.

"When coach Maradona first met the players, his advice to them was to work hard, always be on time and get prepared for the new season. If they did all these things, then they would play in his team," Yousuf said.

"The coach made it clear that if a player works hard for him, then he will do well. For him, that would make a team successful.

"He is really excited to be here."

Yousuf said Maradona arrived in Dubai late on Wednesday "and was still very tired the next day".

"And yet he wanted to meet the players right away and wasn't going to miss Thursday night's training session," the manager said. "He wanted to meet the guys.

"The coach could have taken the night off, however, he told us that he had come here to work and [he] didn't want to wait any longer to begin this new challenge at Al Wasl."

During the training session, Maradona was in a jovial mood throughout, constantly joking and laughing with his assistant coach, Hector Enrique.

There were almost as many club officials in attendance as there were players on the training pitch, many of whom looked as if they could not quite believe that arguably the greatest footballer of all-time was now one of them.

"This is a great privilege for me, personally, Al Wasl, and UAE football as a whole," Yousuf said. "When I was looking at him on the training field, I still couldn't quite believe he was here. I think this has been a huge surprise for the entire Arab world.

"For any club in the UAE to attract the most famous man in football is fantastic. I am sure some people in the country did not think this would happen, even after we announced Maradona's appointment, and yet here he is. Nobody would ever have imagined this could happen just a few months ago."

Like many fans, Yousuf has many memories of Maradona, the player.

"He was a wonderful player," the manager said. "The first time I saw him was in the 1982 World Cup and, of course, everyone remembers what he did in 1986 in Mexico. His famous goal against England was just incredible.

"I also think Argentina would have won the 1990 World Cup final against West Germany if it had not been for the referee. And now Maradona is here in Al Wasl and we will all do our best to assist him."

Maradona was driven on to the running track, which surrounds the pitch, a little after 9.30pm on Wednesday, said hello to his back room staff and then disappeared again to have that first conversation with his players.

When he returned, he got the players in a circle and, with the help of his translator, made what looked like a passionate speech. The players seemed to hang on to his every word, even if for most of them it was coming second-hand.

And the Wasl youth team, who were training on the adjacent pitch, stopped their game just to watch the Argentine, who had been retired before any of them had been born.

It was interesting to note that the players always had a ball at their feet during the two-hour session, even when they were warming up and stretching their legs. If they ran, they ran in possession of a football.

The entire session, which began at 10.15pm, revolved around players working on their touch and control with both feet - perhaps an indication that he wants his players to be as technically proficient as possible. Given how the coach played, it is probable that he will demand the team play a passing game.

With hands clasped behind his back, Maradona strolled around the middle of the pitch while the players were going through the drills set out by Vilamitjana.

He spoke to every player, always with a smile, sometimes a hug, as nobody escaped his gaze.

Then they broke into teams of seven for a couple of fast-paced practice matches, which were based around two-touch football and finding space. New signing Juan Manuel Olivera stood out.

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, especially the new coach who appeared comfortable on the artificial turf pitch among his new team and while there is an obvious language barrier, he constantly talked to the players.

And there was one little piece of magic from Maradona himself.

While standing in the middle of the pitch, he performed a beautiful piece of juggling with that famous left foot before he pinged the ball into a goal - just to show the squad you never lose it.

ncameron@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE

Published: August 6, 2011 04:00 AM

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