Diego Forlan’s family and the Uruguayan national team are inextricably linked, with the current Celeste star’s father, Pablo Forlan, and his grandfather, Juan Carlos Corazzo, having both enjoyed success in the iconic sky-blue shirt.
Far from letting their fame weigh heavy on his shoulders, Diego has made his own contribution to the footballing history of a nation that, when compared to the relative populations and geographical size of neighbours and rivals Brazil and Argentina, has traditionally punched far above its weight.
Chosen as the best player at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Forlan attributes his success to commitment and respect for Charrúa football tradition – elements he has been brought up with since birth. And by appearing in last week’s 5-0 away win over Jordan in the first leg of the pair’s intercontinental play-off, Forlan also helped Uruguay move to the brink of a 12th FIFA World Cup™ finals.
What's more, Brazil 2014 would be extra-special for two very good reasons: firstly, the chance to defend his adidas Golden Ball crown and secondly, performing in the nation where he currently plays his club football for Porto Alegre’s Internacional, a team his father also graced for many years. In the days leading up to the first leg against Jordan, Forlan spoke to FIFA.com about luck, his unique family and the roller coaster ride that was South Africa 2010.
FIFA.com: Footballing success runs in your family, with you having followed in the footsteps of your father and grandfather. What’s your view on that legacy?
Diego Forlan: As a boy, it was always really nice knowing that my dad was well-known. Whenever I was with him, people would say: “Look, there’s Forlan’s son!” That used to make me feel proud. Three generations of my family have been crowned South American champions with Uruguay. I don’t think there’s another like it in the world – it’s gone down in history. It’s a tradition that was passed down to me and one which I, though I don’t have a son yet, will tell him about when I do. It’s a sensational feeling. That’s how I see it and that’s how my dad must see it too. I think that it must make him very happy.
Would you agree that tradition is something you place great stock on in your personal and professional life?
Yes, one example was at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when we were preparing to take on the hosts. We’d been using a red shirt as part of our away kit, but there’s no red on the Uruguayan flag… People were saying that’s why we didn’t win when we weren’t wearing our normal kit but, after thinking about it, I realised that the colour wasn’t the problem, as we weren’t winning games with the blue, the white or the red shirt. That aside, red isn’t representative of Uruguay. So I went to have a word with the kitman, who’s been with us with ages. I asked him why we were playing in red and whether we could use the white shirt, which is one of the colours on our flag. He agreed and asked me to speak to [team captain Diego] Lugano, the coach and the officials. So off I went, speaking to people. Everyone agreed, we changed back to the white shirt and, in the first game in it, we won 3-0. Besides which, it looks nicer, people liked it and it ended up being a big seller.
Once again, Uruguay struggled in World Cup qualifying and are involved in the play-offs for Brazil 2014. How does a team that found the going so tough in qualifying then go on to reach the semi-finals, like La Celeste did at South Africa 2010?
For us Uruguayans, the qualifiers are always very tough. Every game is difficult and we always want to reach the World Cup. For Uruguayan people, that’s an absolute must. Football means so much to our country and missing out on the 2006 World Cup in Germany was really painful. Then, ahead of the 2010 finals, we had to go through a play-off against Costa Rica. But, once we’d qualified, we felt that the work put in since we failed to reach the 2006 World Cup had borne fruit – so we could now go on and make the most of the World Cup.
You certainly did that at South Africa 2010, to the extent that you won the adidas Golden Ball, an award previously won by fellow South Americans like Ronaldo, Romario, Diego Maradona…
It’s unbelievable! You go down in history. For my name to be alongside players like that is really incredible, sometimes I can’t even believe it myself. I was in very good shape that year. I’d been training hard and also doing additional work with a personal trainer. Not long before the World Cup I played for Atletico de Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey, which we lost against Sevilla. But we also reached the final of the UEFA Cup, when we beat Fulham, all of which helped me go into the finals on form. Allied to that was the fact most of our squad had been together since the 2007 Copa America.
In Uruguay’s run to the last four on African soil, you witnessed first-hand one of the most unusual and dramatic moments of that final tournament: Luis Suarez’s goal-saving handball against Ghana. Where were you and what was going through your mind?
I was in the middle of the park. I remember that there was a free-kick taken from near the box. After they sent the cross in, the ball started pinging about from one side to another. All I could think about was that someone had to clear the ball out of there as quickly as possible, but all the while, it kept pinging around the box until boom! Suarez stuck out a hand! I stopped dead in the centre of the field, right where I’d been standing. Ghana had a penalty in the last minute of extra time. To be honest, I already started thinking about our flight home, I couldn’t think of anything else at that moment. But when the guy [Asamoah Gyan] hit the penalty against the bar and over, I could feel the relief right in my stomach. It was unbelievable.
Was that a stroke of luck or did ability play a part too?
Uruguay aren’t one of those national teams that get much luck. We have to play really well if we want to achieve our objectives. We’re not like Brazil, for example, who play really well but always get a healthy slice of luck too. Don’t get me wrong, I must explain that I’m not saying Brazil have been successful through luck, of course not. Brazil have great players and a really strong footballing tradition. What I mean is that for us to beat Brazil, for example, we need to play at 200 per cent. If we only play at 70 per cent of our capabilities against Brazil it’s impossible to beat them.