Mumbai: For a man who has spent 24 hours flying to Mumbai from Uruguay, Diego Forlan seems surprisingly energetic.
He saunters into a press conference to announce LaLiga's partnership with Indian tyre manufacturer BKT and answers questions for 45 minutes before obliging journalists with another lengthy round of questions and answers. In between, he patiently signs footballs for fans.
Where other superstars would have baulked at the hectic ‘workload’, Forlan is at ease in the city which was briefly his home three years ago when he played for Indian Super League side Mumbai City FC.
“I wanted to come to India to play in the ISL again, but there were no offers,” reveals Forlan, who eventually ended up at Hong Kong’s Kitchee SC. “I didn’t have the opportunity to come back to play for Mumbai City FC, which I wanted to do. Then I took a break to spend it with my family for a few months as my wife delivered a baby girl. Then I got a good offer from Hong Kong. I had been to Japan and India previously. I wanted to see another country. Krisztián Vadócz, who was my teammate at Mumbai City FC and was already in Hong Kong playing for Kitchee, told me it was a good team and a good place to go so I chose to go there.”
Having retired two months back, Forlan now plans on embarking on a career in the dugout. With a coaching licence that allows him to take charge of teams in South America already under his belt, his goal next year is to complete his UEFA badges which will allow him to coach European teams.
For now, he says, he’s open to coaching anywhere, including India.
“I’ve been playing around the world, so I coach here as well. I would love to coach in the ISL. The time I had here was very good. I really enjoyed it. Not just me, my family and my friends came here as well. I met great people. They were very kind to me and my family. So why not?” he asks.
For a man who has experienced the highs of football — he was the Golden Ball winner at the 2010 FIFA World Cup besides playing for European heavyweights like Manchester United, Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan — the 40-year-old has also been somewhat of a journeyman with his playing career taking him to Argentina, Brazil, Japan, India, and Hong Kong. These travels have given him a first-hand view of different footballing ecosystems, including the one in India.
“The last time I was in India was three years ago. So it’s difficult for me to say if India is moving in the right direction. I can’t say,” he shrugs on being asked about the direction Indian football is moving in. What he can say is that during his time in India, he saw enough Indian talent on the pitch to be sufficiently impressed. He singles out his Mumbai City FC teammate Sunil Chhetri as a great player, while also heaping praise on Sehnaj Singh and Prannoy Halder.
“Back when I was playing, we didn’t train much. You don’t have many days to train, you had time to recover and rest. But this was when the league was held over a short window.
“The league is not just for three months now, it’s six-seven months long. The level has increased. They are getting more teams. But I’ve been told FC Pune City has moved to Hyderabad while Delhi Dynamos have gone to Odisha. Maybe it’s good because you have some places where the football frenzy is crazy. Maybe you should take advantage in those places,” he says before elaborating, “In my opinion — with all due respect — with India being so big and having so many people, maybe you need to start something at the grassroots and focus on places where football is more popular than cricket. Places like Kerala, Kolkata, North East… everybody loves football there. It’s different in Mumbai or New Delhi. So maybe you should focus on places where everybody loves football and maybe start building up from there. Then you can go to other places. This is just a suggestion.”
He adds that the ISL should consider having a relegation and promotion system in place.
Naturally, you want to know how Uruguay — population of just over 34 lakh people — can still mix it with the big boys while India, with its billion-strong population still lags behind.
“The footballing structure in Uruguay is not the same that you see in Europe. It’s about mentality. We’re a small country with a population of just over three million people. We don’t think about things like infrastructure. We like to play. When we are on the pitch, we compete. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing Brazil or Argentina,” he says before adding, “Of course at the grassroots you need good coaches to create those players. In Uruguay everybody plays football, just like here everybody plays cricket.”
The conversation soon veers to the giants of Asian football, Japan. It’s a country he spent a year in, playing with Cerezo Osaka in the J-League, before briefly playing second division football as well.
“When I was young — this was in the early 90s — Japanese teams were coming to countries like Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. They wanted to learn. They’ve been doing it for so many years. They have a strong league, good training facilities, they have money, that’s why you can see they’re doing well. They think that they will be champions in the future. I doubt it. It’s not easy. I know their mentality.
“They are good with technology, it’s easy. One plus one is two with technology. But in football, one plus one is not two and they don’t understand that. In football you need to make decisions. The ball doesn’t think. It moves around the way you move it.
"That’s why for them it will be tough and they will struggle a little bit. They’ve done well, but with all the money and facilities that they have, they should have done better! They think if we have a plan, and if we stick to it for 20 years, we will be champions in 20 years. Football is tougher than that.”
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