A few names did float around when it came to picking a marquee player for Mumbai City FC ahead of the third Indian Super League (ISL) season. None however, as straight forward as Diego Forlan. To put the selection into perspective, while the eight franchises have traditionally roped in star foreign athletes who were at the twilight of their careers – or had even retired – the Uruguayan comes to the tournament just months after winning the Uruguayan top flight title.
That factor itself was one that convinced CEO Indranil Das Blah and the rest in the Mumbai team’s management to pursue the signing. “He’s very active and we got to know that his daily schedule has him wake up at six in the morning to begin training,” Blah says. “Diego is dedicated, relevant and current,” he adds.
The forward’s credentials and availability was realised by other ISL franchises as well. “It had reached a point where there was almost a bidding war,” Blah asserts.
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Then there was the matter of rumoured offers coming in from Spanish clubs as well. “I did have some different offers, but I decided to come here,” says the 37-year-old. The former Manchester United, Villarreal, Atletico Madird and Inter Milan forward had first heard of the glitzy Indian league while he was playing in Japan for Cerezo Osaka., and again a year later at his boyhood club in Uruguay. “I had watched some highlights on the news channels when I was in Japan and Uruguay. It’s a different kind of tournament since it’s short but not easy because you have to travel a lot,” he adds.
The Uruguayan’s involvement in the Mumbai City outfit has already had an impact with the younger Indian players. More than any previous big-name player in the previous two seasons of the tournament, it is with the late bloomer Forlan that the local players relate to. “Diego worked his way up. He wasn’t a super star from the start. He had to work hard to get to where he is, and that’s something the Indian players have realised,” Blah says.
At Manchester United, despite proving himself to be a tireless workhorse, the then 23-year-old striker had to wait till his 27th game before he could find the net. Two unsuccessful seasons at Old Trafford, and he was shipped off to Villarreal in Spain for the 2004-05 season. That year, Forlan provided the glimpse of the ability he’s known for today, winning the Pachichi Trophy – awarded to the highest goalscorer in a La Liga season – along with the European Golden Boot he shared with Thierry Henry that year. Four years later, at Atletico Madrid, he won the two individual awards yet again.
While his career is considered to have truly taken off when he was 25, at 31 he was finally considered a world class athlete courtesy of his heroics for the national team at the 2010 World Cup that earned him the Golden Ball. A year later, Forlan scored his only two goals of the Copa America in the final to earn his country a record 15th continental title.
“Individual trophies is good. But it’s always better when the team wins. I won the Golden Boot twice and the Golden Ball later because I scored goals that were important for the team. It’s nice to win those awards, but winning titles with the team is better,” he asserts.
Incidentally, Forlan’s father and maternal grandfather too won the Copa America for Uruguay.
Forlan is 37 now, but is still looking to perform and lead as he heads into his Indian sojourn. He travels to India on the back of winning the Uruguayan Primera Division with Penarol, appearing 31 times for the club and scoring eight goals in the season – including a perfect hat-trick against Defensor Sporting.
The late bloomer may just be past his prime, but there’s still a hunger in the blue-eyed talisman. In a career that has reached its 20th season in professional football, Forlan has risen – albeit delayed – from the shadows to become one of the bigger names in world football.