There is not much that has not already been said about Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan. Now 33, and a veteran of 17 seasons of top-flight football in Argentina, England, Spain, Italy and now Brazil, Forlan knows all about life in the spotlight, especially after his exploits at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, where he capped his side’s run to fourth place by pocketing the adidas Golden Ball, awarded to the tournament’s most outstanding player.
The stalwart sharpshooter gave FIFA.com an exclusive interview at his new base in Porto Alegre, where he spoke about his return to South American football with Internacional, Uruguay’s bid to qualify for Brazil 2014 and what lies in store in his already successful career.
FIFA.com: Diego, what does your return to South America mean career-wise?
Diego Forlan: It’s a different situation in a different country. That’s what it means. After ten years in Europe it seemed to me to be the right time to change, and after my experience in Italy and having played in Spain and England, I felt that phase of my career had come to an end.
Were there no challenges left for you in Europe?
I don’t see it like that. I had ten amazing years there, even if there was the odd downside, like not playing that much at Inter Milan. I had offers to carry on there but then I got this chance to come to a big side in a very competitive league on a three-year contract. As if that weren’t enough, it also meant I’d be close to home, family and friends again. Everything conspired for me to make this return.
Do you see yourself going back to Europe?
To be honest, right now I’m not thinking about Europe or anywhere else. I’m 33 and I want to play for as long as possible, but I don’t know what shape I’ll be in when I’m 36 (laughs).
Did you think about playing in Uruguay?
No. The fact is, nobody knew I was going back to South America because the Inter offer was pretty much kept secret until the deal was done, which meant there was no time for any Uruguayan team even to think about me.
Do you feel like you have unfinished business there?
Not at all. And in any case, it wouldn’t be easy and I don’t want to give anyone false hopes. I’m happy with the decision I made. Inter are a big club.
What attracted you to the Brazilian league?
The fact that it’s always been a tough league, with six or seven teams fighting for the top four places, and which in the last few years has gone right down to the wire. The quality of football’s good, and you’ve got big teams and great derbies. It’s a fantastic challenge.
How different is it to European football?
The thing that stands out most is the size of the pitches. They’re bigger here and the space is harder to fill, but generally speaking the football is pretty dynamic here. The other differences are all relative and depend on the teams, the coaches and the players you have. Let’s face it, little teams sit back everywhere.
Let’s turn to the national team now. What’s your view on Uruguay’s performance at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012?
Well, it’s an obvious thing to say but that’s football. I’m not kidding when I say that standards have levelled off a lot and we had a real struggle in all three games. Look at United Arab Emirates. We ended up beating them but they controlled the ball and created several chances. And don’t forget Senegal, who were a fast, strong and technically gifted team and who scored their second against us despite being down to ten men. You don’t get any predictable results these days.
Would you have liked to have been there?
Just as much as the rest of the overage players who didn’t go. But we knew the rules and in my case I didn’t get carried away. I just accepted it and I’m sure my colleagues did too.
Oscar Tabarez said that was just one example of how mature the current squad is, a factor he believes is key to the success Uruguay has enjoyed lately.
Yes, relations are very good on and off the pitch, which helps when times are good and especially when they’re bad.
Do you think recent results are a sign that the team’s status as favourites is beginning to weigh heavily?
Not at all! People might believe all that stuff about being favourites but we don’t. We’re the same everywhere we go. We believe in what we’re capable of doing and in how far we can go, but nothing more than that. World Cup qualifiers have never been easy for Uruguay. National teams here are getting better all the time and that’s there for all to see.
Even so, it can’t be easy having to deal with the euphoria of fans as passionate as Uruguay’s ...
(Interrupting the question) The fans are going through a very special time. We’ve had quite a few successes after a lot of barren years and it’s understandable that they’re happy and let it show, especially the younger fans. Even when I was a kid the only thing I saw them win was the 1987 Copa America, which was also played in Argentina. They see a different Uruguay these days and people are happy. We should let them enjoy it.
Do you think you and they could take going through a fourth consecutive play-off?
No, it would be very hard (laughs). The fact is, though, all that matters is making it to the World Cup. I don’t care how we get there. It’s never been easy for us and the aim is to qualify as soon as possible. But if we have to go through the play-off to make it, I’d settle for that right now.
Is that the biggest objective of your career now, after winning the adidas Golden Ball at South Africa 2010, lifting the 2011 Copa America and becoming your country’s highest goalscorer of all time?
Without a doubt, but I’m not someone who needs to set objectives all the time to be motivated. I like to train, play and make a living from this job. As long as I’m as enthusiastic as I am now, the challenges will keep on coming.
You might end up being the player of the tournament again in Brazil.
First we have to qualify. Then I have to be selected, play and win games (laughs). The important thing about that award is that you shouldn’t go looking for it. It’s part of history now.
Let’s talk about your life outside the game. What’s the best and worst thing about being a footballer?
(Pauses) I chose to make a living from football and it’s fantastic. It gives you the chance to travel, to visit different countries, discover other cultures and have colleagues all over the world. You also sacrifice other things that you’ll never get back, like the time you’ve spent away from your family. There are sacrifices in every profession, though. The key is to be relaxed about who you are and not go around thinking, ‘How would my life have turned out if …?’.
You’ve experienced the good and the bad side of fame.
It affects you, of course it does, but it was my choice and I have to live with it. My goal was always to do things to the best of my ability without losing sight of who I was. I think I’ve managed that.
One last question. You’ve said that you intend to carry on playing for a long time yet. Are you scared of retiring?
Absolutely not. I know it’s going to happen sooner or later, but right now I’m just trying to enjoy all this. My idea is to stay in football later on and there are lots of ways of doing that, though I still don’t know in what capacity. One thing I am sure of is that now is not the time to stop and think about it.