DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Al Wasl Vice President Mohammed bin Dakhan said Diego Maradona was fired because the Dubai team wanted to move in a new direction and find someone who would help it win championships again.
The former Argentina great was fired the previous day after one season in charge, having signed a two-year deal in May 2011. Al Wasl finished a disappointing eighth in the 12-team league and didn't win any trophies. The season ended with the club blowing a 3-1 first leg lead in the GCC Club Championship and losing to Bahrain's Al Muharraq on penalties.
The club's board of directors resigned days after the June defeat, leaving Maradona vulnerable. The new board insisted he would remain for another year but then changed its mind after ''a comprehensive study of all the technical aspects'' of his tenure.
''We cannot deny that Diego Maradona is the best football player in the world and you cannot deny that he is a qualified coach,'' bin Dakhan said Wednesday. ''But we are looking forward to someone who will take us forward and win championships again for Al Wasl.''
He said the club was looking at four or five possible candidates, including former Qatar and Senegal national coach Bruno Metsu. The Frenchman was in the stands to watch Al Wasl lose the GCC title. An announcement on a new coach is expected in the next week.
''On a personal basis, we are not happy to terminate the contract. We are again saying we are working for the sake of Al Wasl,'' bin Dakhan said.
In a strange twist, the club has invited Maradona to attend a ''farewell ceremony'' at a date to be announced to show ''the unique and strong relationship between them.'' It did not say whether Maradona would attend.
The decision to fire Maradona was greeted with anger by some of the club's supporters, about a dozen of which came out to the news conference to express their support for the 1986 World Cup winner and argue that he should have been given more time to turn around the club.
''Some of us are sad and some are against this decision because this was the wrong time,'' said Amas Tayeb, a supporter standing near a poster showing Maradona at an Al Wasl news conference. ''He should have been given one more year.''
Yousuf al-Sarkal, the president of the UAE Football Association, also told The Associated Press he was ''disappointed'' to hear that Al Wasl had fired Maradona. He said Maradona should have given more time, adding that club's failure to win any trophies cannot be solely blamed on Maradona but was the responsibility of ''the coach, players and management.''
Maradona was on vacation when the announcement was made. He has yet to comment publicly.
Al-Sarkal was quick to say the decision to fire Maradona was an internal matter for the club. But he said there was no doubt that the Argentine had a significant impact during his year in Dubai.
''I'm disappointed,'' he said of the firing. ''From my traveling all around the world, people talk about our league because of Maradona. They know the name of the club, the existence of the league because of Maradona. ... Of course to have an icon like Maradona in our league, it was bringing a lot of media attention to the UAE as a country and UAE football.''
But al-Sarkal acknowledged that Maradona often hurt himself with his antics off the pitch.
After his first victory at Al Wasl, Maradona was forced to apologize after kicking the hand of a fan. Another time, he was accused by a coach of being disrespectful for the way he celebrated a goal.
The bearded and diamond stud-wearing Maradona once charged into the stands to confront Al Shabab fans who were taunting his partner, Veronica Ojeda, and the wives of several players. He had to be restrained by security staff.
''We know during the season there were incidents where he was involved. There were incidents involving spectators where he was in the picture and that is not the role of a coach,'' al-Sarkal said, pointing to the Al Shabab clash. ''It was not a crime scene. It was misunderstanding. Just imagine if something happened to Maradona and how that would give a negative picture for the league, for our football.''
Maradona starred on Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning team. He joined Al Wasl following his firing as the national coach of Argentina, where he had mixed results. Before becoming coach of his home country in 2008, he coached Argentine first-division clubs Deportivo Mandiyu in 1994 and Racing Club in 1995.