‘Life is hectic but I would recommend Indian Super League to other players’

In this week's column, Diego Forlan discusses his life in India and his time in the India Super League with Mumbai FC.

Mumbai City FC captain Diego Forlan, left, has played 10 matches in the Indian Super League so far and has enjoyed every moment of his time in India. Punit Paranjpe / AFP
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If any former professional footballer thinks it is easy to come and play in the Indian Super League, let me tell you from experience that it is not.

I have known of some very good big name players who had stopped playing for a year or two before coming here. They did their best to get fit, they intended to do well. And they lasted a game or two before getting injured. With games every three or four days, you soon fall behind.

The fitness of the players here has impressed me. Each of the teams have up to six foreign players and standards are high. It is not technically as good as the best European leagues and I never expected it to be, but nor is it a place you come to relax or think you are getting some easy money because the pace is non-stop.

There is a lot of travel, too. An away game might mean a one-minute journey to the airport, another 90 minutes waiting, a three-hour flight and then another journey at the other end. Then you make the return journey on normal schedule airlines the day after the game.

The conditions in southern India can be very hot and humid. These take some getting used to, as does the traffic. You have not seen traffic until you have seen Indian traffic and if someone tells you that a place is a 40-minute drive away, it means on the next block. The locals have their own interpretations of the traffic rules.

But I have loved it here and so have my family. The people are friendly, it has been a great experience.

Importantly, the football has gone well. I have played in 10 of Mumbai City’s 13 games so far, scoring five and making three assists.

I got a hat-trick in Sunday’s 5-0 win against Kerala Blasters, a team who had the best defence in the league and who attract crowds of 50,000. They are managed by Steve Coppell and captained by Aaron Hughes and Michael Chopra.

Those goals made me the league’s joint top scorer with another Uruguayan, Emiliano Alfaro, plus a Brazilian Marcelinho and a Canadian, Iain Hulme. My family flew over from Uruguay for the game so the timing was good.

More importantly, it helped Mumbai City towards qualifying for the four-team play- offs. We confirmed our place on Tuesday with another win against Chennaiyin, for which former Liverpool defender John Arne Riise plays. He is still fit and still dangerous with free-kicks.

We are top of the eight-team league and the play-offs will be in a couple of weeks. We have a few days off now to relax in the team hotel. It is warm, there is a pool and I have my family here.

What more could I ask for?

I am going to see more of Mumbai. It is a metropolis of 15 million – three times the size of Madrid which I used to think was huge. It is not a football city like Kolkata where the crowds can reach 60,000. Mumbai is more like the New York of India, the centre for Bollywood and glamour.

Cricket is the undisputed top sport and you see it being played everywhere.

On the Mumbai Oval there are dozens of games of cricket taking place at the same time. That is a recreational area in the centre of the city which looks like it is in London, with Victorian British architecture such as a clock tower surrounding it.

The train station, which was also designed by the British, is beautiful. Over three million people use it each day – that is the entire population of Uruguay using a single train station. One train can carry up to 7,000 people – that is a bit less than the number of people who watch our home games. A wave of humanity moves along the platforms every minute.

Close to our hotel, a whole block seems dedicated to washing clothes, with thousands of sheets hanging to dry in the sun. There are cows on the street, people walking among the traffic selling everything. The city is buzzing.

I have yet to try Indian food. I will, but I do not think a change of diet is good for me during this short season.

I am 37, but feel fit. I saw a stat that I had more shots on goal than any player in the league so far. This league finishes in December but I want to carry on playing and I’m open to offers.

I am comfortable with my teammates here and settled quickly. We mainly speak in English, but a few of us Spanish speakers have taught one of the Indian players some of the Spanish words which maybe he should not be using in front of his mother.

All the players live in the same hotel. We live together, train together and hand in our phones before matches together. To prevent any betting, there are no phones allowed in the dressing rooms.

I would recommend the Indian Super League to players. The organisation level is high, the quality of the pitches too and it is quite an equal league. No team wins every match and the travelling an intensity of games affects everyone.

The tournament gets big coverage on television and the presentation is done in a more America style, with all the razzmatazz and fireworks before the match. There is little hostility between fans. Maybe that will come now we have reached the play-offs. I will let you know how we go on.


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