Diego Forlan will be writing a weekly column for The National, appearing each Friday. The former Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid striker has been the top scorer in Europe twice and won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup. He currently plays in Japan for Cerezo Osaka. Forlan’s column will be written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.
My compatriot Diego Godin is one of the best defenders in the world, good enough to play for any team in any league.
In 2014, he had a better year than any other defender. He scored the goal in Camp Nou against Barcelona that won Atletico Madrid the league title on the final day.
He scored in the Uefa Champions League final and very nearly won the European Cup.
At the World Cup, he scored for Uruguay against Italy to take us into the knockout stages – with his neck.
Was there a better central defensive partnership in club football than Godin and the Brazilian Miranda last season? Yet he was not named in the Fifa FIFPro World XI team of the year.
I was not surprised. He is Uruguayan, after all. A tiny country, our population is 3.3 million, 60 per cent that of Scotland. We don’t have many people, let alone footballers, to vote for our own.
Not one Uruguayan player has been named in the team since it started. In 2010, I finished joint-top scorer in the World Cup finals and was named best player in South Africa 2010.
I scored two goals in the final of the Europa League, too, where I was given man of the match. I scored in the semi-final at Anfield, a stadium where I like to score.
And I played for my tiny country in the World Cup semi-finals, and for Atletico when we beat European champions Inter Milan 2-0 in the Super Cup.
I was fifth in the Ballon d’Or, with only Lionel Messi ahead of me as a striker, but I was not named in the best XI team.
Never mind – it is better to win proper trophies on the pitch than a subjective vote.
But this column is about my friend Godin, not me.
Anyone who had seen us planning a barbecue in Madrid in 2010 would not have considered us fit to do anything, let alone play well in a football team.
We were back at my place after training. He had just signed for Atletico Madrid from my former club, Villarreal. I had kept telling Atletico that they should go for him because he was everything the team needed – he was aggressive and quick with superb anticipation of what the forwards are about to do. He even scored goals, especially at set pieces. Atletico went for him and I was delighted.
It was August 2010 and we were back from the World Cup and feeling happy. I was introducing Diego to all the people at Atletico, people who are still part of Atletico’s success. (I should also mention Jose Gimenez, another Uruguayan central defender at Atletico, who is just 20.)
It was one of those hot summer Madrid days without a cloud. We agreed that it was perfect for a South American barbecue, so we drove to the supermarket and bought food and drinks. Everything was going to plan as we returned to my place.
Then I spotted a cloud. And another. By the time we arrived, it was raining heavily. Madrid is not like South America – the rain does not just appear – but it did that day.
Godin blamed me, I blamed him. He told me that I was cursed. I disagreed. We sat inside eating as the rain splashed down.
He asked: “So, when are you leaving?”
“My home? I’m not leaving. I live here.”
“No, the club.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I arrived at Villarreal and you told me it was a great club. So I travelled to Spain alone. I’d been there a week and you left and tried to rent me your house. Now I’m here at Atletico.”
We played for a year together before I left and tried to get him to rent my house.
We call Godin “Wacho”, which means urchin or orphan. He’s not an orphan so I’ve no idea why, but the name stuck.
I first met him in 2005, when he joined the national team as a left-back.
He played with Cerro, a smaller team from Montevideo who are usually in the first division. I noticed him watching me stay behind after training. He did the same and we worked his left foot.
He would become a regular in partnership with Diego Lugano, our captain. In Brazil last year, Lugano could not play against Colombia because he was injured. I was the second captain of the national team.
I went to see our manager and said: “I know I’m supposed to be captain today, but I think it’s a good idea for Godin, who is now 28, to be captain. He’s young, he’s going to be in the national team for many more years than me.”
The manager agreed. Godin deserved some luck with the national team in a competition because he was ill and injured when we won the Copa America in 2011.
But he will have played 100 times for Uruguay in a year or two and be remembered as a great in our country.
The way he is playing, he will be remembered as a great around the world, too – not that anyone will vote for him.
Diego saya watch out for....
Paris Saint-Germain v Chelsea in the Uefa Champions League on Tuesday.
PSG have so many star players, including my friend Edinson Cavani, but they do not click as a team like Chelsea are doing. PSG will want revenge for Chelsea knocking them out on away goals last season. They will give it a good go in Paris and maybe they can turn it on for one game, but I would be surprised if they went through.
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