Diego Forlan: Unless there’s something to play for, like Arsenal and Liverpool, final day games are often rubbish

Columnist Diego Forlan writes that 'if you have nothing to play for and have one eye on the beach, motivation can be something you cannot reach'.

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney has a right to look dejected. Their Premier League campaign will not result in an automatic berth to the Uefa Champions League, again. John Sibley / Reuters
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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 have become a father for the second time this week after my wife gave birth to a baby girl called Luz, so I have not paid full attention to European football matches on television. It didn’t really matter when so many of them meant nothing.

I saw bits of games between sides in the middle of the league who are not fighting relegation, to win a title or to get into a place for a European competition.

These games are often rubbish. You see empty seats at stadiums which are always full. Games such as at Arsenal or Southampton this week, even though Manchester United were visitors to the latter. You can see the slump in the form of some teams when they realise that they are safe or that their managers are going to leave.

Celta Vigo, who have had a good season in the cups, have lost seven of their past eight league games as they focused on cups. Las Palmas, who were top of the Primera Liga for the first time in their history at the start of the season, have lost seven from their past nine.


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It is painful for the fans to watch. Although Southampton against United was 0-0, you see a lot of high-scoring games at the end of the season. Consciously or not, players are not as focused or motivated as they could be if they have nothing to play for.

It’s human nature and I’m appreciative that it only happened to me a couple of times in my career. Usually, I was in a team which competed for trophies.

At United it was titles, in Spain at Villarreal and Atletico we were chasing European places. I was also hoping to become Primera Liga’s top scorer, which I managed twice. In both cases in 2005 and 2009, I was in a fight to the last with Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o.

Like me, Eto’o won the Pichichi (top goalscorer award) twice and the second race also went to the very last night.

I was trailing him but scored a hat-trick for Atletico Madrid at Athletic Bilbao in a 4-1 win. Those goals lifted me above Eto’o. I always tried to be at a club who competed for trophies, but I have played in these end-of-season nothing games and I didn’t enjoy them.

You play football to win and when you are in a situation where there’s nothing to win it is like you have failed in your objective. It’s hard to get motivated. When I hear the phrase “Already on the beach”, I admit it does have some truth to it. You really are looking forward to a break after a long season, which starts in June and finishes in May.

It’s hard in different ways. There is the physical aspect, but there is the mental one, too. It is entirely normal for a manager to be sacked, for you to be injured, suspended and in conflict in a football season. That conflict can come with the media, with fans or with uncertainty about your future.

I’m not asking for any sympathy because the life of a footballer is a great one with many advantages. To get paid to play is an honour, but you still need a break from football, to clear your head, relax and come back fresh. I only had one really big problem like that. I was at Inter Milan in 2011 and had a difficult season. I kept getting injured and could not get more than six games in a row.

The team wasn’t doing great and I wanted to get away, to start again. The end of the season couldn’t come soon enough for me.

There are some different circumstances, though. If you have spent all season fighting relegation for a team who just want to stay up and you achieve that with two games to play, you are going to enjoy the last two games free from that crushing pressure. You can play, go home and play golf or eat in a restaurant with your family.

You’d be surprised at the number of footballers around the world who cannot go to a restaurant, and show their faces in public because there are problems for their club.

The players might have done nothing wrong, but if the fans are not happy – for whatever reason – then they are going to take out frustrations on any targets and a player, in their eyes, is a target, whatever he is doing or whoever is with him.

There will be plenty of players looking forward to their holidays now. If I look at the fixtures this weekend in England then there are games which mean almost nothing. The players will just want to get through them without getting injured.

Of course you want to play well and football remains enjoyable, even to someone who does it for a job, but with Chelsea already champions, the relegation places decided, the only thing at stake is whether Arsenal or Liverpool reach fourth place and get in the Uefa Champions League.

Liverpool, at home to already relegated Middlesbrough, are clear favourites. My old club Manchester United really should be in England’s top four, but they are going to finish sixth. That’s a big disappointment for United, but they do have the Europa League final next week, a competition I won with Atletico.

I hope you will see a very different United to the one we have seen in recent weeks and I think we will.

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