It has been long and demanding year for Diego Forlan. The blond striker has had an energy-sapping schedule of matches, long-haul flights, functions and interviews to attend to over the last 12 months.
And though a little tired after so much exertion, he can at least take satisfaction from a thoroughly rewarding year. In addition to helping Atletico Madrid win the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA European Super Cup, the Uruguayan goal machine also inspired his country to fourth place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, where he pocketed the adidas Golden Ball as the player of the tournament.
Having achieved so much for club and country, Forlan fully merits his place on the shortlist for the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2010. And as he explains in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, he is delighted just to be there: “It’s incredible to be on the list of nominees, which is not an easy thing to achieve when you consider all the players there are.”
As far as the 31-year-old is concerned, the performances the 23 short-listed candidates all put in at South Africa 2010 will have a big bearing on who finally receives the prestigious accolade. “The World Cup is the biggest event in football,” he said.
Yet, typically for this selfless team player, his happiest memory of those unforgettable four weeks is the never-say-die performance he and his team-mates gave against Ghana in a dramatic quarter-final. “That’s the game that stands out for me because of what we experienced on the pitch and what we achieved,” Forlan revealed. “The team played so well that day and we were all enjoying what was a very special occasion. I think you could see that on the pitch.”
The scorer of five goals in the competition, Forlan has little doubt that eventual world champions Spain deserved their prize: “They were worthy winners, because they showed what a great team they are and they won in style. There’s not much between teams these days. There were some big nations who had some disappointing results and that just goes to show that if you’re not on top of your game, then names and history count for nothing. To win matches you have to go out and play them.”
Forlan’s Uruguay were not found wanting in that respect, and his inspirational efforts drew praise from some famous names. Among them was his esteemed countryman Enzo Francescoli, who had this to say to FIFA.com in an exclusive interview during the world finals: “If he keeps playing like this, then he’s going to end up the best player Uruguay have had for a long time, and that includes me.”
Modest to a fault, Forlan blushes at El Príncipe’s words of praise: “I’m just trying to do the best I can, and if that means I eventually go down in history then that’s great. But I’m not trying to beat anyone. We are who we are.”
In the wake of Uruguay’s run to the semi-finals in South Africa, the striker was as determined as anyone to ensure Oscar Tabarez stayed on as coach. “I just felt the coach had to carry on with the project he’d been working on,” said the Charrúa talisman. “He’s done a great job since he took over and it would have been a shame if his work had been cut short. There’s a feeling of complete confidence now because he knows the set-up inside out, from the players in the team right now to the young ones who’ll be pushing through in the future. It was important that he stayed on.”
The next major objective for Tabarez and his charges is Copa America 2011 in Argentina, where they have been drawn against fellow South Africa 2010 participants Chile and Mexico, as well as Peru.
“It’s definitely one of the toughest groups there is,” opined Forlan. “The two teams who went to the World Cup have a lot of quality, and though Peru have been struggling a little in the last few years, they could bounce back at any moment. They’ve got some very good players and a reputation for playing good football too. It won’t be easy and we’ll have to take it one game at a time, but it’s a competition we’d love to win. And I’m looking forward to going to Argentina too because I’ve got a good relationship with the fans there.”
Prior to taking on Latin America’s finest, however, Forlan has a long domestic season to negotiate with Atletico Madrid. “We’d love to qualify for the Champions League. That’s the objective,” he stated. “As for winning the Copa del Rey or the Europa League again, we’ll just have to see how we get on.”
In the meantime, Atleti’s task will be to try stay in the frame at the top of La Liga, which is once again being dominated by Barcelona and Real Madrid: “The top two have got a big advantage over the rest and it’s not easy for the teams below to keep pace.”
Forlan knows all about that, having set an equally fast pace for his peers to follow throughout 2010.