Diego Maradona's Indian driver in UAE in tears after legend's death
Published on November 28, 2020 at 14.48
Sulaiman and the rest of his family are coming to terms with what feels like a "personal loss".
As the rest of the world mourns the death of football legend Diego Maradona, his passing away has struck a much deeper chord and created a void for this Indian driver in Dubai.
Sulaiman Nellisserry, a Kerala native who was Maradona’s driver for eight years when the latter was a UAE resident, was left shattered on Wednesday night when he saw a television channel flashing news of the football legend's death.
“I worked for him for eight long years. To him, I was Sulee and I would address him as Diego. He was a genuinely nice person with a very kind heart and I am deeply indebted to him for everything I have now,” said Sulaiman. “I was able to build a house in my native place in Malappuram, Kerala, thanks to the support extended by him,” he added.
The last time the 36-year-old Dubai expat spoke to the football icon was on October 30 this year. “I wished him well on his 60th birthday. He was very cheerful when I called him and ended the conversation saying he missed me a lot,” Sulaiman told Khaleej Times.
When Sulaiman heard the news of his death, he reached out to Maradona’s daughter Ginannina on WhatsApp who confirmed it. Sulaiman and the rest of his family are coming to terms with what feels like a "personal loss".
'I will never forget the first meeting'
Sulaiman, a former employee of the Al Wasl Club, recalled when he met Maradona for the first time after he was asked to pick him from the airport on August 11, 2011. “I will never forget that meeting. He had just arrived in Dubai to start his coaching stint with Al-Wasl. In the early days, he wouldn’t speak much,” reminisced Sulaiman.
A week after his arrival, Maradona moved to a villa near the club’s headquarters. “Though the coaching stint lasted only one year, he (Maradona) put in a request with Dubai Sports Council to have me continue working with him as he was appointed as their ambassador for three years. Between 2012 and 2016, he stayed back in Dubai, however, he wasn’t working,” said Sulaiman.
In 2016- 2017, Maradona became the coach of Fujairah before leaving at the end of the season. “We would drive to Fujairah and return every day. That’s how I ended up working with him for eight years,” he pointed out.
The two had a communication barrier in the early stages of their working relationship. “I spoke some broken English and he only spoke Spanish and Italian. We needed the help of his Egyptian translator. Sometimes, when he wanted something, he would show me a picture of what he was looking for on Google and I would get it for him,” Sulaiman said.
He had a weakness for chocolates
Sulaiman said Maradona could not live without Cuban cigars and chocolates.
“He was like a small child. He loved chocolates like Kinder Joy and small candies. Every morning, he would train at the ground nearby, where he would practice dribbling and other soccer drills in the villa grounds as well,” he added.
“In the eight years I worked with him, he was always kind and happy and treated us all (his employees) very well. Once, when my mother was sick, I had to fly home to Kerala and he called me on video chat and wished my mother well. He met with my sister and wife and kids when they visited,” he said. “Once when our car had a flat tyre late at night in Fujairah, he got out and helped me fix it,” he added.
“I last saw him in May 2018. He gave me a recommendation letter when he left. That letter will be something I will treasure all my life,” said Sulaiman. The two stayed in touch over WhatsApp messages for the last two years.