Diego Forlan: England should learn from Uruguay if they want a successful national team
Diego Forlan writes 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. Forlan’s column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.
I had not even been selected to play for Uruguay against England in the 2014 World Cup but still felt elated when the match ended in Sao Paulo.
We had won 2-1 with goals from Luis Suarez. I had started the first game of the 2014 World Cup, a surprise defeat against Costa Rica.
That meant we had to beat England, but England also had to win against us as they had lost their first game against Italy.
I was disappointed not to start the England game, but understood and I knew my place. Luis and Edinson Cavani, two players who played in similar positions, were among the best forwards in the world — though Luis had been out after a knee injury for a month. He showed just how good he is by coming straight back and scoring both goals in a huge game.
I was 34; you know when you are the main player and you know when you are not the main player.
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I would have expected to start the same game in 2010 when I was the top scorer in the whole tournament, but I was realistic by 2014 and delighted to be playing in a third World Cup finals. I was genuinely delighted for my teammates, the friends I would spent a month with.
We had a unity which was genuine. It sounds ridiculous, but some players were as happy not to play as to play. They felt special just being part of the squad and it was the same in 2010 when we reached the semi-finals in South Africa.
I saw it with Wales and both Irish teams last year in the European championships — it cannot be faked, you can feel it and maybe it comes more easily to a tiny country like ours.
I did not see the same emotion in the faces of the England players and yet Uruguay used to be exactly like that, a team of individuals rather than a true team.
We got out of that situation by understanding that if we were not all for one and one for all then we wouldn’t be getting into the World Cup in the first place.
England had big names and some very good footballers in Brazil three years ago, but they didn’t have what we had. And then I remember my first World Cup in 2002 in Japan and South Korea.
England had even bigger names then, they were among the favourites to win the competition. I was living in England by that time and playing with great players and lads like David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt. They won everything there was to win in club football.
Yet the England national team appeared to lack unity. There were players from huge clubs who stayed in different groups when they were with their national teams.
The England players were important, with big egos to justify their status in their country, but big reputations and personalities don’t always help in a team sport.
England has produced many good footballers since, but I do not think international football is as important to them as it is for us in Uruguay.
They are already rich, they don’t need to play well to get a move to England or another rich football country because they are already in England where they live like kings.
England’s fans have long lost hope in them, but that could work to the favour of the national team. The fans still travel in huge numbers — even in South America when we played them.
The bar is now so low with England that it will only take one good win against a good team to lift the spirits and get those fans back onside.
The lack of expectation is something that the new manager, Gareth Southgate, can profit from because everyone expects England to qualify for the World Cup and then get knocked out near the start of the tournament after playing dreadfully.
That has become normal and it’s a shame and a surprise given that England has the most competitive league in the world, with the most money, the best facilities and probably the best national stadium on the planet.
Wembley is beautiful, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea for England to get out of London and play games in those other beautiful stadiums in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool or Newcastle and get more of the country to feel a connection with their national team.
England’s continued failure is almost as surprising as why English teams have stopped doing well in European club competitions which are now dominated by Spanish clubs.
We are on an international break and England lost 1-0 against Germany on Wednesday in Southgate’s first game as manager.
There was a superb goal from Lukas Podolski in his final game for Germany, but England actually played well and adopted a 3-4-3 system which is catching on with clubs this season.
They have promising young players such as Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Marcus Rashford and Michael Keane, but aren’t England all about promise and not delivery?
Maybe one day they will prove everyone wrong by doing well in a big international tournament. I would love to see it.
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Updated: March 23, 2017 04:00 AM