Diego Forlan: My career will continue in India, where football has room to grow

The world’s second-most populous country will be the eighth in which I have lived and played professional football after Argentina, England, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Japan and Uruguay.

Illustration: Kagan McLeod and Kevin Jeffers
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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 am 37 and about to move to India to continue my football career.

The world’s second-most populous country will be the eighth in which I have lived and played professional football after Argentina, England, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Japan and Uruguay.

I have happy memories from all. Some worked out better than others and I would have rather played more games and scored more goals at Manchester United or Inter Milan, but I look back at my career with pride.

People used to say that a football career was 15 years. I have been playing professional football for 20 and have no intention of stopping. My father always told me to enjoy playing while I could, so I am doing that.

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I do not intend to stop when the Indian Super League, which only lasts for three months this season, finishes before the end of 2016. I’d love to continue playing and I will see which offers appear.

I do it because I love football. It is my job. It is what I get paid to do and it is what I still enjoy. If I did not, I would quit.

I keep really fit. I wake up at 7am each morning and work out with a personal trainer. I still have the drive and motivation to play. I still feel sharp in front of goal and I was playing for the national team until last year.

Football has allowed me to see the world and in Paz, I have a wife who is keen to see the world with me. She was happy to move to Brazil and Japan. She was also happy to be back in our native Uruguay for the birth of our first child, Martin.

Some players have partners who are not keen to move around. If Paz did not want to, I would not be going to India, but this is a lady who did really well learning Japanese when we lived there, who climbed Mount Fuji without me and who learnt to paint in a Japanese style. She is enthusiastic about moving to India and taking our son with us.

So, why India? It is different, for a start.

I had offers to play in England this summer and last. The only team I will play for in England is Manchester United.

If Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford all were out of the picture, I would be happy to go on an emergency loan and help out United. Maybe play at Liverpool away, score a goal or two and then make way when the injured come back.

I had offers from Spain and Italy, too. But I feel that I have done my time in both countries, sampled the life there and enjoyed myself. Now I am ready for something new.

India is definitely that. Cricket is the No 1 sport, especially in Mumbai where I am headed, but the Indian Super League has been a success.

The average attendances across all the games was 27,224 last season. That makes it the fifth-highest average for any league in the world. Atletico de Kolkata, who have links to my old club Atletico Madrid, had a crowd of 68,000 for one game.

The standards are improving, too. When the league started in 2014, the big-name foreign players tended to be ones who had just retired. Now, because the Indian League wants to improve standards, they are attracting people who are still playing.

Nicolas Anelka, Elano, Roberto Carlos, Adrian Mutu, Florent Malouda, Helder Postiga, Didier Zokora and John Arne Riise and my old teammate Simao were all involved last year.

Some will be involved again, while Steve Coppell and Gianluca Zambrotta have already been confirmed as managers. The teams are spending serious money to get good footballers. The league may be extended next year from the current three-month format.

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Over a billion people live in India, so the potential is huge. The organisers want to raise standards because India have not done well in football.

I have been to India once, to the football city of Kolkata, but it was a brief visit. I have heard people say that India is a great place, others say it is a terrible place. I am fortunate to have the chance to find out for myself, to form my own opinion. If I like it, maybe I will go back the following season. Who knows?

I will be 38 then, but Ryan Giggs and Teddy Sheringham played until they were 40. I’d love to play until the same age.

My new team will begin pre-season training in the UAE in September, where we will be based in Dubai. I am looking forward to that, before we move to Mumbai where the team all lives in a hotel together.

We will train, play and then have the rest of the time free with family to learn about the country and the culture. That is attractive for someone used to spending 180 days of the year in hotels away from my family.

Once the league begins, there will be two games each week – probably 17 in 10 weeks. I want to play in all those matches, want to get in the rhythm of a game every few days.

Then, when I finish, I will be as fit as I can be going into the transfer window for my next move.

But first, India awaits.


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