- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2011

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) - Diego Maradona was hired Monday to coach the United Arab Emirates club Al Wasl, marking the Argentine great’s return to coaching since leading his country to the World Cup quarterfinals last year.

He signed a two-year contract and will be in charge when the next season opens in September. He is joining a fourth-place team aiming to boost its prospects, attract more sponsors and fans and “establish unprecedented standards.”

Al Wasl officials would not disclose financial terms of contract, but said Maradona would be responsible for leading the club to “new heights.”

The 50-year-old Maradona visited the club’s training camp Saturday and had been in talks with the team for several days. Dressed in a polo shirt, shorts and baseball cap, the tattooed Maradona blew kisses to fans who mobbed him and chanted his name as he watched the team practice.

He didn’t talk to reporters and the club said he left Sunday for Spain to attend his daughter’s birthday party in Madrid. He is expected to return to Dubai next month.

Al Wasl Sports Club has become synonymous with achievements of this caliber, and we are very pleased to be welcoming Maradona to a long line of accolades in the club’s history,” vice chairman Marwan Bin Bayat said in a statement. “This partnership embodies the vision of the club as it embraces forward thinking developments in the region to establish unprecedented standards for the sport.”

Since losing the Argentina job last year, Maradona has been linked to several coaching vacancies, including Iran’s national team and the English clubs Blackburn and Fulham.

Al Wasl, whose season ends next month, has been looking for a coach since firing Sergio Farias in March. The top four teams in the league qualify for next season’s Asians Champions League.

The sports club, which includes the soccer team, is chaired by Sheik Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a brother of the Dubai ruler. Al Wasl is considered one of the top clubs in Dubai but hasn’t won anything since 2007. That year it won the title of the former UAE league, which included mainly amateur clubs, and the UAE Presidents Cup. The league turned fully professional three years ago.

Carlo Nohra, the league’s chief executive officer, called the hiring of Maradona “welcome news” for a 12-team league that has seen its attendance grow this year by 30 percent.

Maradona’s football credentials speak for themselves, and whilst it’s too early for us to judge what this appointment will mean for the league or the club, his profile and popularity have undoubtedly brought focus to the league, which is as a positive thing,” Nohra said.

Last year, the Dubai club Al Ahli signed and subsequently fired former Leeds and Aston Villa manager David O’Leary. It also signed former Juventus captain Fabio Cannavaro, who remains with the club though he is injured.

Maradona was captain when Argentina won the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, but a ballooning waistline later slowed his explosive speed and he retired in 1997.

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

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.

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