With a salary rumoured to be $1 million ((R 6.6 crore), Mumbai City FC’s marquee Diego Forlan is likely to be the highest-paid footballer in ISL3. At 37, he is also likely to be one of the oldest.
Whether this is the last stop in a storied football career could hinge on how the former Uruguay star performs. Following a successful stint in the A-League, Alessandro del Piero came to India for ISL1 but did little to justify his cost, said to be over R3 crore more than Forlan’s, and it turned out to be the last time the Italian legend played competitive football. After two unsuccessful attempts to make the semifinals, Mumbai City FC will surely hope Forlan is worth every cent he is charging.
Forlan’s passage to India, his first as a player and second overall having been a guest for a football reality show in Kolkata in 2010, isn’t going to be top football news in Madrid or Manchester, two cities he would perhaps have contrasting recollections of, or Montevideo. He may feel like a million dollars and earn that too but this would seem small change in ‘Planet Football’ where Paul Pogba costs nearly 120 times more. Yet, Forlan’s shift from Penarol, where he played 31 games and scored eight goals last season, to Mumbai is perhaps relevant to Manchester United in particular and football in general.
In this world of ballooning players’ salaries and agent’s commissions, with everyone trying to catch’em young and avoid a repeat of a Pogba-like situation at Manchester United, Forlan is a totem. A totem differentiating between dreams and reality of the kind Leonardo DiCaprio’s character never forgot to carry in ‘Inception’. Transfer deals are nearly as complicated as that Christopher Nolan effort, but it isn’t difficult to understand why Arsene Wenger and Juergen Klopp say they are concerned.
Wenger’s worried about teenagers being given multi-million pound deals even before they prove themselves so that clubs don’t sell them cheap and buy them dear like United did with Pogba. It kills hunger, he has said. Freddy Adu in one example of a performance-potential mismatch, Adnan Januzaj is another. Januzaj is on a five-year deal and has now been loaned to Sunderland after a brief stint at Borussia Dortmund last term. Tyler Blackett, on a weekly deal worth nearly R17.5 lakh, is a third and said to be worth R 15 crore, Andreas Pereira fourth but by no means last on the list.
Barring Adu, they are all on the rolls of Manchester United, a club where Forlan struggled so much that he was called Diego ‘Forlorn.’ Getting to United was a big deal for Forlan who was a football player by accident. Like Sachin Tendulkar, tennis was his thing. But once he chose football, Forlan put in the hard yards. And perhaps still does. He battled rejection in Europe, returned to Uruguay and simply worked harder. It fetched an offer to join Manchester United but that too ended in disappointment though it wasn’t for lack of effort.
At 25, his dream of being a top footballer still being that, Forlan could have given up. Or, like many who didn’t succeed at a big club and struggled to shake it off, gone under the radar.
Four-letter word mantra
Instead, he made his mantra, a four-letter word --- work. Forlan moved to Villarreal and finally all these years of effort began to pay off. He became La Liga’s highest scorer and shared the European Golden Boot with Thierry Henry. Atletico Madrid was his next stop and Forlan blossomed there. Twice he became the league’s most successful marksman, his goals helped Atletico Madrid qualify for the Champions League and win the Europa League.
It wasn’t just for the club that he was shining. The son and grandson of famous footballers, Forlan scored four times in the 2010 World Cup where Uruguay, a country of 3.4 million and often taunted as a suburb of Buenos Aires, finished fourth. It fetched him the Golden Ball, the award given to the tournament’s best player. Enough reasons to happily walk into the sunset? Next year, Forlan won the Copa America, something his father and grandfather too had.
Forlan’s ability to beaver away could be the biggest takeaway for players nearly half his age but earning enough to be distracted. At Mumbai City FC, he is likely to be joined by Sunil Chhetri, India’s most successful striker of all time. Chhetri too could have lost his way after failing to live up to promise as a youngster at Mohun Bagan but, like with Forlan and Villarreal, his career was revived at JCT under Sukhwinder Singh. Chhetri and Forlan could form a deadly duo on the pitch and offer a lot away from it too.