Diego Maradona celebrated his 56th birthday in unusual fashion on Sunday evening – by officially opening his new restaurant in Abu Dhabi.
The football legend – looking slim and trim in a matching grey T-shirt and trousers – was greeted by hordes of frenzied fans at Café Diego in Nation Galleria mall on the Corniche.
He was joined by two of his footballing friends, Jorge Burruchaga, his ex-Argentina teammate, who scored the winning goal in the 1986 World Cup final, and Clarence Seedorf, the former Dutch international and four-time Champions League winner.
The trio – and, of course, particularly Maradona – were besieged by people seeking autographs and selfies once inside Café Diego.
The eaterie’s walls are adorned with memorabilia from Maradona’s illustrious career, including shirts from his various clubs such as Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli.
It also features typical Argentine architectural designs reminiscent of the streets in Maradona’s hometown of Buenos Aires and serves a variety of traditional Argentine dishes.
Invited media such as Gulf News had been told that Maradona would hold a short press conference, but this did not materialise.
He did, however, speak in Spanish to thank his Abu Dhabi fans for attending the event.
Seedorf, the former Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan midfielder, also rejected Gulf News’ request for an interview.
The perpetually smiling Dutchman was, however, perfectly happy to accede to any request for a chat or selfie with fans.
A dedicated fan zone was set up on Saturday and Sunday for fans to pay homage to Maradona, featuring pictures and various memorabilia from his career.
The Argentinian superstar has become a familiar face in the UAE in recent years, first spending 14 months in charge of Dubai-based Arabian Gulf League outfit Al Wasl between 2011 and 2012.
He subsequently became a Dubai sports ambassador for the Dubai Sports Council, appearing at such events as the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Maradona rose to fame with Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors in his homeland in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before winning the La Liga title with Barcelona between 1982 and 1984.
He starred at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, almost single-handedly winning the tournament for Argentina, scoring five goals and making five assists.
Maradona was also a beaten World Cup finalist for his country four years later, when West Germany won 1-0.
In total, he scored 34 times in 91 appearances for Argentina between 1977 and 1994.
His most notable club spell came at the Italian side Napoli, for which he achieved cult status by inspiring them to five major titles, including two Serie A crowns, between 1984 and 1991.
In December 2000, Maradona was named joint Fifa Player of the 20th Century with Pele.
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