The many thousands of Manchester United fans who cannot wait to see the back of a Bulgarian they nicknamed ‘Berbaflop’ will be well advised to remember the Uruguay hitman who was dubbed Diego ‘Forlorn’ during his two and a half years at Old Trafford. Perhaps his 17 goals in a total of 98 appearances warranted his nickname at the time but Forlan has certainly proven his ability to find the net in the five years since.
Sir Alex Ferguson had plucked Forlan from Argentina’s Independiente for £6.9 million in January 2002 where he had gained prominence following his move from Uruguay. He was still to make his international debut but it appeared great value for a 22 year old who had found the net 37 times in 80 Championship matches.
His Old Trafford career did not turn out as planned however, having to wait until the end of October before opening his Premier League account with an equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa. By the time Forlan was sold to Spain’s Villareal in August 2004, his meager tally of goals for United was a huge disappointment to both Ferguson and the Old Trafford faithful.
So how does a United flop become a La Liga scoring sensation virtually overnight? Forlan finished his first season in Spain as the leading goalscorer AND tied with Arsenal’s Thierry Henry for the prestigious European Golden Shoe Award. Was it just a fluke? Far from it! His three seasons at unfashionable Villareal yielded 54 goals in 106 appearances before Athletico Madrid paid €21million for him to replace Fernando Torres after his move to Liverpool.
In the three seasons since, the blonde haired Uruguayan has found the net 66 times in 102 matches. Season 2008-09 saw him top the La Liga goalscoring list once more with 32 goals in 33 appearances as well as winning the Golden Shoe for a second time. Then just in the last couple of months, Forlan’s strike delivered a 1-0 home leg win for Athletico against Liverpool in the semi final of the Europa League, equalised in extra time in the away leg for Madrid to reach the final on the away goals rule then scored both goals to beat Fulham in the final.
The former Diego ‘Forlorn’ has continued that form at the World Cup where he is Uruguay’s main creative force and deadliest finisher as his two goals against South Africa proved last week. In fact, if not for him now being 31 years of age and has already had a spell at United, it would surely be Forlan rather than Uruguay teammate Luis Suarez being tracked by United.
Ferguson can rightly point to mitigating circumstances for selling the Uruguayan to Villareal five years ago. Having to wait for limited chances behind the well oiled goal machine that was Ruud van Nistelrooy at that time, it made far more sense to move Forlan on than keep him kicking his heels on the sidelines.
Forlan of course is not the only player who was unable to do the business at one club only to blossom at another. Juan Sebastian Veron is considered to have been a flop at Old Trafford, Gerard Pique spent four years at United making just 12 Premier League appearances before returning home to Barcelona while Robinho only lasted a little more than a year at Eastlands before being loaned back to Santos. Yet within a few days, any one of those ‘flops’ could end up being a World Cup Winner. Go figure!
Was Forlan simply at Old Trafford at the wrong time?