Someday Indians will play for Real Madrid, Barcelona, says Diego Forlán
The Former Uruguayan star opens up about his time in India.
A magnetic figure on the pitch with his blond mane, blue eyes and powerful long rangers, Forlan took time to get his career going due to a combination of factors. But he finished as a modern great.
Forlán was named the outstanding player of the 2010 World Cup and was its joint top scorer. Uruguay reached the semifinals of the tournament. The following summer, he led Uruguay to success in the Copa America, emulating a feat his grandfather Juan Carlos Corazzo had achieved in 1959.
Manchester and Mumbai were among the ports that took some getting used to. At the Theatre of Dreams in the early 2000s, Forlán did not score even once in his first nine months. The pressure was building. Nor was he getting enough chances in Alex Ferguson’s star-filled team. Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were ahead of him in the pecking order.
“It was especially difficult to adapt because I did not have the backing of the coach [Alex Ferguson]. It is difficult get into the rhythm if you are playing only 10-15 minutes every game,” the soft-spoken Forlán said in accented English during his visit to Mumbai.
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Luego de 21 años tomé la decisión de poner fin a mi carrera como futbolista profesional. Se cierra una linda etapa llena de grandes recuerdos y emociones pero comenzará otra de nuevos desafíos. ¡Gracias a todos los que de una u otra manera me acompañaron en este camino! 👋🏼 🔟
What helped was he could speak English. “When I arrived in England, I could adapt to my new surroundings because I had learned English in school. So, when I arrived at the training ground, it was easy for me to talk to my teammates and the manager,” said Forlán.
Forlán did get a chance to ingratiate himself with the United fans, scoring a brace in a 2-1 victory at Anfield, the home of United’s biggest rivals, Liverpool. When the ball went into the back of the net, Forlán took off his shirt, and sprinted to the away fans, the bare-chested messiah ordained by fate to deliver Ferguson’s prophecy that Manchester United would knock Liverpool off their perch.
He scored six goals in the 2002-03 season, each accompanied by indiscriminate celebrations, given Forlán’s proclivity to take off his top at every opportunity. The Uruguayan’s torso and rippling biceps became a fixture on TV sets around the world, so much so that he holds the dubious distinction of being responsible for FIFA’s 2003 ban on players removing their jerseys.
In the summer of 2004, an 18-yearold Wayne Rooney joined Manchester United. Ferguson was forced to employ his pruning shears. Forlán was deemed surplus to requirements and dispatched to Villareal in Spain.
Baby by the Mumbai Bay
In 2016, at the fag end of his career, Forlán was tapped to represent Mumbai City FC in the Indian Super League (ISL).
“I came here with my family and my baby boy. Now, he is a little bigger. My wife, she told me she was pregnant again when we were here in India. It was a great year, and a great league. One thing I can’t handle is the spicy food,” he said.
The demanding nature of the fledgling league meant that there was less time to get acclimatised to the local conditions. “We didn’t train much, as we’d play in Mumbai on Sunday, and then in Kerala on Thursday. Most of the time would go in travelling, resting, and getting ready for the next match,” Forlán said. However, he remains optimistic that the popularity of football can pick up in India.
“It’s not that there are good players only in Europe or South America. I have played in many countries and can say for a fact that there are some very good players in Asia and Africa. It doesn’t matter if your country has a history in football or not,” he said. “When I came to India, I played with strong players. And if they had a chance to go to Europe, they would do really well because they have all the attributes — physical strength, intelligence, adaptability. People might think India is years behind other countries, but you need to realise that experienced coaches and players can help groom local talent. I am sure, there will be a time that Indian players will be playing for Real Madrid and Barcelona.”
Forlán added, “You have Sunil [Chhetri], who went away [abroad, to the MLS in the US] and came back much stronger. You can see how good a player he is. Maybe if he stayed in Europe for a few more years, and [played] for a different team, he would’ve become an even better player. It is not that he couldn’t play abroad because he is an Indian player.”
In the dugout
Despite a strong showing, Forlán’s ISL contract was not renewed.
“I stopped [playing professionally] for a while, and then I had my baby girl. There was a good offer from Hong Kong,” Forlán said. After a brief spell with Hong Kong Premier League club Kitchee, he hung up his boots on August 7 this year. In the meantime, he was studying for his coaching licence.
“I completed my coaching badge in South America. But you know, it [authorization] is not uniform all around the world. If you want to coach in Europe, you need a different license by UEFA. I plan to get one from Spain to be eligible to coach in Europe. It is also a great time to be a coach in India,” Forlán said.
Forlán has resumed his longstanding affair with his first love: Tennis. He frequents the Carrasco Lawn Tennis Club in Montevideo, knocking about with Uruguay’s Davis Cup captain Enrique Perez. However, Forlán could be on the move once again to earn his coaching badge in Europe.
After many false starts, Forlán managed to get into his stride in the home stretch of his playing career, and he reckons that staying the course was the best decision he ever made. “Anybody can play football. Sometimes, what you need to achieve your goal is mental strength,” he said.