Mumbai City FC's marquee signing Diego Forlan just cannot wait for the football to begin! A training camp held in Dubai has only vetted his appetite for the game, the Uruguayan said, adding that he is excited about his first foray into Indian football.
"This is my second time in India; I have been to Kolkata before," he said on Saturday, during a press interaction at a Mumbai city hotel, ahead of the Indian Super League (ISL) campaign, that begins next week. "We have good Indian and foreign players. I know the club didn't qualify for the play-offs in the previous two seasons, so we are looking forward to that as a challenge. We want to do our best for the league."
Flanked by head coach Alexandre Borges, Forlan said the ISL is a tough league to play in. "It's a really difficult league, because you play many games in a short period of time. Moreover, travelling in such a big country like India isn't easy. We have a lot of good players, and everybody needs to be fit because you know this is going to be a difficult season for everybody," he said.
In a cricket-dominant country like India, football is still looking to gain a stronghold. "I've been watching some games before on the news when I was living in Japan and Uruguay. I could see there are many good players and could see many people in the stadium, so I think it (football in India) is growing. They are trying to make it an important sport here. We know that cricket is the main sport in India. But they're trying to build football and are trying to make it a good league. It's not easy, but if you have people who want to do it and people with the capacity to do it, and have good players, then maybe in the future, it will be a good league."
Mumbai finished seventh in the first season of the ISL, and improved it by one place in the second, meaning they are due a good tournament now. A run for the playoffs this year isn't beyond the realm of possibility, said Forlan.
"We have to respect every team. The nice thing about football is you never know what is going to happen. It doesn't matter if you have the best team on paper; you can still lose to the worst team in the league. You have to be ready, you have to train hard. I like training, but most players prefer playing," he said.
Elaborating more about the unique challenges of playing in the ISL, Forlan said, "You have to play every three-four days, and you also travel a lot. I think everybody has to be careful and be fit, because you play 14 games in two months in this league."
Forlan replaces former Arsenal and Chelsea star Nicolas Anelka as Mumbai City FC's marquee player. A major point of contention last season was the poor combination and link-up play between Anelka and Indian forward Sunil Chettri. Chettri is currently away with Bengaluru FC, and will be a part of the AFC Cup semi-final against Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim. A win there would mean Chhetri will be unavailable till 5 November.
But Forlan said he was focused on his job at hand and is eagerly awaiting Chettri's return. "We have to wait and hope he comes to us as soon as possible, because we need the whole squad and everybody in every game."
New head coach Alexandre Borges spoke of his assessment of the team following their Dubai training camp. "We did very well in Dubai. We knew about the players. We proposed to them a different style of play and we had the opportunity to see each one of them. Now we have a clear picture of what we have and what we can expect," the Costa Rican said.
In fact, Bengaluru FC's incredible AFC Cup run has hurt Mumbai City FC the most. With four players involved in the I-League squad, Borges seemed worried about the lack of manpower for the first few games of the season. "First of all we have to wait for those guys in Bengaluru FC to return. I am crossing my fingers as I have two players injured already," he said.
"I have a few different combinations, including local and foreign players, and I am satisfied. The role that Diego (Forlan) will play is clear, no matter which combination plays around him. We are ready," he said.
In a strenuous league like the ISL, Borges struck home the point that the same XI was not possible. "It's impossible that we can play with the same XI in every game. It does not matter whether the tournament is short or long, as most of the time the first XI you see in the first game is not the same (you see) in the final. I have the right guys for the first game though," the former Costa Rican manager added.
"We will take it game by game and see how to give minutes to each player. We now have 20 players on the pitch, which is a good amount of players to start the league," he said.
Mumbai start their campaign on the road with a derby fixture against Pune City FC on 3 October at the Balewadi Stadium. Forlan is sure to start for the Mumbaikars but whether he will be able to push his team to the playoffs is something that is yet to be seen.