Maradona's one-time driver from Malappuram remembers him fondly

Maradona's one-time driver from Malappuram remembers him fondly
Sulaiman with Diego Maradona.

Sulaiman, a native of Tanur in Malappuram district, who chauffeured around Diego Maradona for eight years, remembered the late footballer as a kind man who always showed concern for him and his family.

The 36-year-old was Maradona's personal driver when he stayed in Dubai between 2011 and 2019. 

"He was a genuinely nice person with a kind heart. I fondly addressed him as Diego and he used to call me Sulee. He was very cheerful when I phoned him to wish on his 60th birthday on October 30. He ended the conversation saying that he missed me a lot. On Wednesday night when TV channels started flashing the news of his death, I immediately contacted his daughter Ginannina (footballer Sergio Aguero's wife) on WhatsApp who confirmed his death. I was absolutely shattered. He was a gem of a person and I'm sure that I will never ever meet another human being like him. I'm deeply indebted to him for everything he did for me. I built a new house only because of his help and support," Sulaiman said in a choked voice.

Sulaiman was an employee of the Dubai-based soccer club Al-Wasl, where Maradona had a one-year coaching stint from 2011 to 2012. After his departure from the club, the legendary footballer was appointed as an ambassador by the Dubai Sports Council the same year. 

"His contract with Al-Wasl was terminated in 2012, but he did not leave Dubai. Though I was an employee of the club, he asked the officials of the Dubai Sports Council to get me as his driver," Sulaiman said, reminiscing about the time spent with the iconic footballer.

Sulaiman first met Maradona on August 11, 2011, when the latter arrived in Dubai to begin his stint as coach of Al-Wasl. According to him, that day will forever be etched in his heart. 

Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona. Photo: Manorama Archives

"I picked him up from the airport and took him to a hotel. In the first few days, he did not talk much. After a week or so, he moved to a villa near the club's headquarters. He spoke only Spanish whereas I knew some broken English only, but somehow we managed to communicate. Sometimes though we had to seek an Egyptian interpreter's help.

“He never got angry at me or treated me unfairly. If he needed something, he would Google it and show me the photos. Two things he could not live without were chocolates and Havana cigars. He also enjoyed drinking beer while travelling.  Argentinian cortado was his favourite coffee. A maid and two bodyguards from his home country were there to take care of him. Every morning and evening he would go to a nearby ground to train. He used to do juggling and other soccer drills on the premises of the villa too. If he was moody I knew that he had a fight with his girlfriend."

Sulaiman recalled two spontaneous acts of kindness and care by the great man that left an indelible impression on him.

"Once our car got punctured while we were returning to Dubai from Fujairah at night. To my surprise, he got out of the car and helped me fix the flat tyre. When my mother fell ill, I took leave for some days and flew home. On the third day, he video-called me and spoke to her. I have no words to express the feeling I had when he did that. It was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life," Sulaiman added.

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