During the World Cup only one thing became even more irritating than the sound of thousands of vuvuzela’s constantly blaring out. No it wasn’t the sight of Emile Heskey making another England appearance nor was it the shots of random celebrities in the crowd, including Dutch politicians, which the camera seemed to cut to every few minutes. No the thing that really irked, riled, and annoyed me was every commentators insistence that Diego Forlan had been a flop at Old Trafford.
Whenever the golden ball winner scored a great goal or did something majestic, which was quite frequently, we would be treated to some pundit exclaiming how remarkable it was that such a good player had failed so miserably in the Premiership.
Now while even the most die-hard Forlan fan would struggle to argue the case that the Uruguayan’s time at Old Trafford was a rip-roaring success, I feel certain things should be put into perspective.
For starters, Forlan hardly got a decent run in the United side making the vast majority of his appearances as a substitute. Arriving in January 2002, Forlan started just seven games, making a further eleven appearances from the bench. While he may have failed to find the net in any of those games, he was only 22 years old and had never played for a club in Europe let alone one the size of United, so it was only to be expected that it may take him time to adjust. However the media were not so charitable quickly labelling him Diego ‘Forlorn’ –absolutely hilarious, no wonder it was re-used in the World Cup to the title ‘Diego leaves Bafana Forlorn’ in a leading South African paper.
The following season the now under-pressure striker found himself making more appearances- mainly from the bench. One particularly frustrating time for Forlan came against Zalaegerszeg in the Champion’s League when the striker came on in the 70th minute as a substitute for David Beckham with United three goals up- two on aggregate. Only a few minutes later United won a penalty which Forlan volunteered to take, only to be waved away by Roy Keane who insisted that Ruud Van Nistelrooy take it ,who duly scored.
Such an embarrassing incident may have caused lesser players to shy away from volunteering again for penalty taking duties but only three weeks later Forlan put his name forward for another Champions League penalty, fortunately it being the last minute of a game United were winning 4-2 and Roy Keane being absent, the Uruguayan was able to break his duck coolly sending the keeper the wrong way.
Despite finally finding the net for United, rather than receiving praise or even a grudging acknowledgement from the Chelsea and Arsenal fans at Fleet Street, he merely received more scorn. With the next day’s headlines highlighting how long it had taken him to score, some even being as petty as to actually count the minutes.
It was in this season-2002/03 that Forlan endeared himself to practically all the Old Trafford faithful with some extremely important goals, an equaliser at home against Villa and a last-minute stunning winner against Chelsea, went a long way to convincing United fans he was good enough to don the red shirt. One of my fondest memories of Forlan was watching him run around chasing the ball with his shirt in his hand after he’d removed it celebrating a winning goal against Southampton, only for the Saints to restart the game before he could get it back on.
Let’s not pretend that these goals are behind many United fans holding a torch for Forlan, the reason the striker still gets his name sung has nothing to do with any shirt removing antics or equalisers against teams from the midlands. No, Forlan’s name rings out occasionally at Old Trafford, for one reason and one reason alone- his two goals in United’s win against Liverpool at Anfield in the 2002/03 title winning season. With those two strikes, one a gift from Jerzy Dudek, the other a well taken angled shot, Forlan more or less wrote himself into the United legends, history book- almost. Arisotle once said‘one swallow does not make spring’ to which he could have added two goals at Anfield do not make a United career. The reason many fans may look back at Forlan with fondness is that as well as that brace at United’s arch-rivals, his other goals in that 2002/03 season were instrumental in bringing the title back to Old Trafford. While Van Nistelrooy may have scored a lot more, without Forlan’s winners against the likes, of Southampton, Chelsea, and of course Liverpool, not to mention his equaliser against Villa, it’s highly likely the Gunners would have retained the title they won the previous season. He may have only scored six Premier League goals that season, but they were mightily important ones.
Unfortunately for Forlan, and United the following season was a fairly disappointing affair as the ‘Invincibles’ of Arsenal swept all before them. For Forlan it was even more of a letdown as he scored fewer goals than the previous season and failed to make the squad for the FA cup final against Millwall. Again though, Forlan did not get a decent run in the side, starting the same amount of games as he was substitute for -15. His return of eight goals was hardly awe-inspiring but considering his lack of a steady run in the team it was far from disastrous.
The 2004/05 season began with a trip to Stamford Bridge, against Chelsea for a certain ‘Special One’s’ first game in charge. For Forlan it would be the end of his Premier League career as coming on as a substitute he had, what can only be described as a ‘shocker’ shooting wildly and at one point even appearing to trip over the ball, to the delight of the Chelsea fans. He was soon shown the exit at old Trafford with his performance at Stamford Bridge seemingly being the final straw for Fergie. However Forlan himself has another explanation as to why his poor showing may have signalled his departure. He told the Champion’s League Magazine: “(Manager Sir Alex) Ferguson wanted me to play with high studs, the interchangeable ones that suit wet pitches,”
“But I feel more comfortable in low ones. I agreed to change boots, but I didn’t. Against Chelsea, I slipped in front of goal and wasted a chance.
“Afterwards, I rushed to the dressing room to change boots. Ferguson caught me. He grabbed the boots and threw them. That was my last game for United.”
It was a shame, that boots would see Forlan booted out of Old Trafford- sorry, there’s no excuse for that one, as with the arrival of Wayne Rooney, as the Uruguayan himself has stated they could have forged a good partnership- certainly one with Van Nistelrooy never quite happened for Wazza.
The rest as they say is history, Forlan would go on to score a ridiculous amount of goals at Villareal then Atletico Madrid, twice winning the european golden boot, before grabbing his national team by the scruff of the neck and almost single-handedly dragging them to a World Cup semi-final.
Along the way Forlan would endear himself to United fans even more by knocking Liverpool out of the Europa League. Regardless of whether he returns to the Premier League- it’s looking increasingly doubtful, there will always be a place in the hearts of many at Old Trafford for the man who ‘came from Uruguay……’