Maradona ringmaster of a media circus
Results on the pitch don't amount to much, but it's the results off it that could be buying Diego Maradona extra time.
- Diego Maradona and his Al Wasl coaching team show their delight following victory over Al Jazira in the Etisalat Cup. The side is now out of the competition and out of the Pro League title race, but the Argentinian has kept his job.
Sure enough, while six of the initial 12 coaches have held firm, six have been fired. Maradona is in the fortunate half, despite his team being the lowest in the table of those to have kept their managers.
Out of the title race and both domestic cup competitions, Al Wasl are sixth in the league with 24 points after seven wins, three draws and seven losses from 17 games. The Cheetahs are 18 points adrift of leaders Al Ain with five matches to play. Their only hope of silverware comes in the form of the GCC Champions League, where they currently top Group D.
Chairman Marwan Bin Bayat admitted results under Maradona this season have been "disappointing", but the Argentinian has kept his job while his predecessor — who had a better record — was shown the door. Sergio Farias, Al Wasl coach at this stage last season, was sacked while fourth in the Etisalat Pro League and through to the semi-finals of both domestic cup competitions.
Farias hadn't kicked a fan, confronted rival supporters in their own stadium or thrown in a public transfer fund ultimatum — but then he is hardly box office when it comes to global status and exposure for an up and coming football club.
Bin Bayat was instead appeased by February's financial results at the halfway stage in the season.
"If we look at income from fan attendance, we have reached Dh600,000," he said.
"I believe this is the largest figure in the UAE. The target, considering that this season was always going to be exceptional, was Dh1 million, but due to the team's lack of performance in the last few weeks, that number has decreased.
"It is still 60 per cent of what our target was and that's pretty good. It is an increase of 100 per cent on last year, when we did not make more than Dh300,000 from fan attendances. We have just reached the halfway stage of the league and we have already crossed Dh600,000."
Without knowing the official worth of Maradona's two-year contract — reported to be between $10 million (Dh36.7 million) and $34.5 million, figures the club refutes — it is impossible to fully appreciate the true return on Al Wasl's biggest investment. But they claim to have made a profit.
"On the marketing side, the club has been able to generate a profit of Dh10 million so far," Bin Bayat added.
"As far as the return on investments made by the club is concerned, the amount generated is Dh17 million.
"So the total from the marketing and investment side of the business is Dh27 million so far in the first half of the season."
A recent media study carried out by Cicero and Bernay Public Relations and Meltwater Global Media said 14,657 articles were published globally between May 2011 and March 2012 relating to Diego Maradona and Al Wasl — and that was before he caused a stir by entering the stands to confront fans after the Al Shabab game last week.
On top of this, Dubai and the UAE has had its fair share of exposure thanks to the 1986 World Cup winner, mentioned 9,462 times in stories in print or online, some 64.5 per cent of the total figure.
If Al Wasl had to pay for this exposure, it would set them back approximately Dh270 million in public relations fees, according to current industry standards.
Some 2,790 news organisations, from CNN to the BBC and Al Jazira to Sky Sports News, have carried articles in 45 different countries — most prominently the United States, Argentina and the UAE.
Of course these figures won't tell you if the coverage is positive or negative, but the phrase ‘all news is good news' couldn't have greater significance for a brand as new to world football as Al Wasl.
After just a season with Maradona in charge, Al Wasl may not be the best UAE club in the current standings, but it is the most marketable, according to a host of new business partners, including Audi, Hublot, Max Clothing and Saif Belhasa.
Ramanathan Hariharan, CEO of Max Clothing, which has a Dh1 million two-year sponsorship deal with the club, said: "Maradona is a legend and very popular with the football community and general public. This, along with the heritage of Al Wasl, will help strengthen the Max brand.
"We believe in the club and the strength that Diego Maradona will bring to the team and its performance."
Hublot marketing director Valerie Servageon, whose company is now the club's official timekeeper, added: "In every part of the world, people know him. We are very proud that he chose Hublot as his watch, and our limited Maradona editions have been huge commercial successes."
Results on the pitch this season are unimpressive but it's Maradona's impact off the turf that will give Al Wasl future sustainability as a football brand, hopefully ensuring the old adage that form is temporary and class is permanent.
However, there is a threshold at which mediocre results and outlandish behaviour start to counteract positive exposure and the growth of a brand. It remains to be seen if the ever unpredictable Maradona can stay on the right side of the line.
270 million reasons to keep diego
- $ 10 million minimum reported but refuted worth of his two-year deal with Al Wasl
- 9,462 Dubai and the UAE Have been referred to in diego stories
- Dh. 27 milllion return on investments midway through Diego's first season
- 2,790 news organisations have carried articles since Diego took charge
- 45 different countries have covered Diego's Al Wasl in their publications
- 14,657 stories published globally during Diego's tenure