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Maradona's Next Soccer Stop Belarus

RFE
17 May 2018, 00:07 GMT+10

He dazzled on the playing field, but as a manager Diego Maradona has stumbled.

The 57-year-old stepped down last month as coach of a second-division team in the United Arab Emirates, not exactly one of the world's elite leagues.

Now, the 1986 World Cup champion is moving on to Belarus, another backwater destination in terms of the sport.

Maradona has signed a three-year contract with Dynamo Brest, currently eighth in the Belarusian Premier League, and will serve not as a coach but as club chairman.

'Diego Maradona will supervise areas of the club's strategic development and also cooperate with its structural departments, including the Academy of Dynamo Brest,' the club said in a statement on their website on May 16.

Maradona thanked the club for its vote of confidence in an Instagram posting, with him showing off his new contract, seated on a white leather couch with a Belarusian flag draped over it.

Dynamo also announced the news on Twitter, with the gray-bearded Maradona sporting one of the club's caps.

The club said on Twitter that Maradona would take up his new duties after the FIFA World Cup in Russia, which takes place from June 14 to July 15.

Dynamo Brest has won the Belarus Cup twice (in 2007 and 2017), the country's Super Cup this year, and placed fourth in last year's national championship.

Maradona stepped down from his role as the coach of Al-Fujairah FC last month after the United Arab Emirates club failed to gain promotion to the first division.

The former Barcelona and Napoli forward previously managed UAE team Al-Wasl and headed the Argentina national team from 2008-10.

As a manager, Maradona, like many other former pros, has failed so far to make a successful transition.

Diego Maradona, shown here in Doha in 2012, served as coach of the United Arab Emirates' Al-Wasl team.

Why would Maradona pick a little-known team in a small city of some 340,000 on Belarus's southwestern fringes to reignite his career?

There appears to be a link between Dubai, the country where Maradona last worked, and his new employer, Dynamo Brest.

The company, SOHRA, reportedly bought a stake in the soccer club in 2016, according to the Belarus website Tut.by.

According to the company's website, SOHRA is in the business of selling Belarus heavy machinery, including MAZ trucks, to markets in Africa and the Arabian Gulf. The Belarus company's headquarters are located in Dubai.

Whatever role, if any, SOHRA played in courting Maradona is unclear. Nevertheless, soccer pundits were puzzled by the former soccer great's decision.

Manuel Veth, editor in chief of the Futbolgrad website, expressed his surprise on Twitter.

Others on social media expressed shock and joy over the news.

'Diego Maradona. With the Belarusian flag. Wearing a @dynamobrest hat. How can I believe that this is not a dream?' @goalsby tweeted.

'Maradona is ours!' a user from Brest tweeted.

'Lost for words,' Sergey Erm wrote on Facebook.

Others injected humor into their social-media posts.

'Does Maradona know for sure which Brest he has signed up for: in Belarus or in France?' a Facebook user asked, posting a picture of both with the caption: 'Diego, don't be confused. Your Brest is on the left.'

Maradona was one of the greats, sparking endless debate about whether he, Pele, or now Lionel Messi are the best to ever play the game.

Football legends Diego Maradona (left) and Pele attend an event on the eve of the opening of the UEFA 2016 European Championship in Paris.

He was also one of the most controversial. His 'Hand of God' goal against England at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico is probably the goal most remembered, although the game-winner he scored minutes later showcased the deft skill and strength that made him such a force on the field.

He was thrown out of the 1994 World Cup in the United States after failing a doping test, and drug abuse and obesity have dogged him since his playing days.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez welcomes Maradona in Caracas in 2010.

Maradona has hobnobbed with leftist leaders, including Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. In 2017, Maradona met Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, Maradona gushed, 'can bring peace to many in this world.'

Whether Maradona will strike up a friendship with Belarus's authoritarian president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, remains to be seen.

Tony Wesolowsky

Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL.

WesolowskyA@rferl.org Subscribe via RSS You Might Also Like Ukraine Ukrainians Use Cushion Diplomacy To Fight Champions League Price Gouging Russia NATO General Surprised By Lack Of 'Visible Russian Interference' In Armenia Crisis Ukraine From Brazilian Poster Boy For Ukraine's Separatists To 'Man Of God'

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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