Al Wasl board resigns after final loss

The board of Al Wasl, the Dubai-based club coached by Diego Maradona, has resigned following the team’s dismal GCC Champions League final loss, raising doubts about the Argentine legend’s future.

Al Wasl confirmed Sunday that the board had resigned on Thursday. The board was led by Marwan bin Bayat, who signed Maradona to a two-year deal in May.

The resignation has sparked local reports that Maradona has been sacked. But the club on its Twitter feed has said he is still the coach.

Maradona, on vacation in his native Argentina, endured a dismal season with Al Wasl, finishing eighth in the 12-team league.

Al Wasl had hoped to salvage the season by winning the GCC final and appeared to have it locked up after winning the away first leg 3-1 at Bahrain’s Al Muharrah. Fans packed the Al Wasl stadium for the return leg in the hope of winning its first trophy of the season. Team President Sheik Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – a brother of the Dubai ruler – even turned up for the first time this season to watch Maradona win his first trophy as a manager.

But the team lost the match on penalties in a contest marred by two Al Wasl players getting sent off for head butting opposing players.

A disappointed Maradona said in the post-match press conference that he would return next season and that he was already looking forward to sitting down with the club and planning the team’s future, including several new signings. He has not spoken to the media since the GCC loss on June 10.

His departure would not come as a total surprise – especially in the United Arab Emirates pro league where foreign coaches rarely last a season.

Maradona has been a huge hit with Al Wasl fans and almost single-handedly put United Arab Emirates football on the map, but he has yet to demonstrate he can coach. Al Wasl has often looked sluggish and struggled to score goals for most of the season. The final match also showed that Maradona has little control over several of his ill-disciplined players, despite his iconic status as one of the greatest footballers ever. Maradona captained Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, but a ballooning waistline later slowed his explosive speed and he retired in 1997.

Maradona has also sparred repeatedly with management in recent months over what he says have been broken promises to provide him with quality players to back up his starters. He has threatened to quit several times unless the club provided him more money in the off season to buy players. But soon after his latest outburst in April, he backtracked and said he would work with the players the club gave him and fulfill the remainder of his contract.

Should he be dismissed, it would be another black mark in Maradona’s troubled coaching career.

Maradona joined Al Wasl following his firing as the Argentina national team coach. Under Maradona, Argentina’s results were mixed, including two of its worst losses – a 6-1 rout by Bolivia in World Cup qualifying and a 4-0 quarterfinal loss to Germany during the tournament in South Africa.

Before taking over as coach of Argentina in 2008, he had coached Argentina first division sides Deportivo Mandiyu in 1994 and Racing Club in 1995. In both cases, he left before his contract was up.