Diego Forlan: Indian Super League season comes to a close with eyes on the future

My Indian adventure is over, at least for this year.

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.

My Indian adventure is over, at least for this year. My team, Mumbai City, won the league stage of the Indian Super League, which meant we qualified for the semi-finals for the first time in our short history. It was always our aim to finish in the top four so we achieved that.

We were defeated by Atletico de Kolkata over the two legs of the semi-final. We lost the first leg 3-2 last weekend. I was sent off in the second half after picking up two yellow cards. I was sorry that I could not be on the pitch in the second game in Mumbai, which we drew 0-0. We had chances, we didn’t score. That’s football.

I’ve enjoyed my time here and would like to come back for the ISL next season. I played a lot of games, scored five goals and made four assists. We had a good coach and great set of players. The mood was positive — the results, too — especially as we were a completely new team.

My family enjoyed India greatly and the hospitality and friendly people we met. The fans were enthusiastic, the stadiums full. I’ll take a break with my family by the Indian Ocean while weighing up my future. I’m 37 but I can play at a good level. I don’t have any offers from other clubs and have been concentrating on Mumbai City, but now I’m ready to listen, to start to play in January if needed. I have boots and will travel. I hope my next move will go as well as India.

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Cricket is still the number one sport in India, but football is getting more popular. With a population of more than one billion, there’s plenty of potential, but it’s not just Indian domestic football which is trying to appeal to football fans.

Leading European clubs such as Manchester United have long courted the Indian market. I bumped into my former United teammates Dwight Yorke, Bojan Djordic and Quinton Fortune in our team hotel in Kolkata last weekend. They’d travelled to India to work as United ambassadors for a live screening of their game against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford.

United have never played a single game in India, not even a friendly, but thousands of Indian United fans attended and the club made them feel part of their fan base by tweeting pictures about them from the main club account and making a film about them for MUTV, which they asked me to be part of.

United think they have 40 million fans in India and because it’s impossible to send current players to meet them, they send former players.

It’s a smart strategy and while United may have had their struggles on the pitch, they’re the best commercially off it. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain all follow United’s lead. United were the first club to have a Megastore, the first to regularly tour Asia and the US preseason in modern times. They even sent teams to America as long ago as the 1940s, travelling by ship over the Atlantic.

I was happy to see the old players. Quinton and I were good mates when I arrived at United. He was a Spanish speaker who had been at Atletico Madrid and he’d surprised people when he signed for United because he wasn’t a star at the Calderon. Even his own teammates thought he was lying when he told them that he was leaving to join United. But he had a decent career, which would have been better had it not been for injuries.

Bojan is a Swede from a Serbian background. He’s bright, talkative and funny. I played with him for United’s reserves and he was in and around the fringes of the first team. He loves football and he’s played for more football clubs than me. He was in the Indian Super League last season.

Dwight is a treble winner and was greeted like a king by fanatical fans in India, but it helps United’s popularity if they have a winning team and that hasn’t been the case in the past three seasons. I know the team are currently sixth and well off the top of the Premier League led by Chelsea, but I honestly think Jose Mourinho will get them winning again. I’m seeing signs, too, such as the win against Spurs which was settled by a superb goal from Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

United won again on Wednesday at Crystal Palace and they’re now nine games unbeaten in all competitions. While the league table doesn’t look impressive for them, Mourinho has been a winner wherever he’s been and he loves the idea of being at United. He’s got a big job to do and he’s at a club not fully over the departure of Alex Ferguson. That didn’t make it any easier for David Moyes or Louis van Gaal and while I can’t see Mourinho winning the league with United this term, I’d be surprised if he didn’t win it within his three year contract.

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