In interview with FIFA.com, Diego Forlan spoke in the same calm measured tones as he did back on 11 March, when he announced his retirement from international football. Nearly three months have elapsed since that difficult decision was made public, and in reflecting on it the striker is certain that it was the right one.
The man they call Cachavacha remains very much part of the Celeste set-up, however, and not just because he is still an active member of the national team’s Whatsapp* *group. Forlan is, quite simply, one of the greats of Uruguayan football, having won a national-record 112 caps for his country, and become its second-highest all-time marksmen with 36 goals.
He cemented his status with superlative contributions to Uruguay’s fourth-place finish at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, where he walked away with the adidas Golden Ball, and to their Copa America 2011 triumph. Now based in Japan with second-division Cerezo Osaka, Forlan spoke about all that and more with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Diego, how much did you miss seeing your name in the squad for the upcoming Copa America and having the chance to meet up again with your Uruguay team-mates?
*Diego Forlan:* Whenever a phase in my life comes to an end I make a conscious effort to move on, and I try not to think about moments like that. It’s better to try and put it out of your mind because obviously you do miss it. It helps that you’ve got your own things to think about, like playing matches, as does living far away. It makes you read the news in a different way. Then there’s also the fact that I really enjoyed my time in the national team, because it makes it easier to bear. The last few years, from 2010 to now, were superb. I wanted to go out on a high.
In reflecting on the highs of the last few years, did you not feel like carrying on?
The enthusiasm and desire is still there, which makes it difficult to stop. You always want more, especially if you still feel in good shape. The problem is, that can lead you to make the decision at the wrong time, and you end up playing on for too long. That’s why I thought it was a good idea to do it before the Copa America and the World Cup qualifiers, which are important competitions. There are new players coming through, the generational handover is underway, and they need to be tested in competitive matches.
Did the fact that you weren’t such a central figure in Oscar Tabarez’s starting line-up influence your decision at all?
No, absolutely not. You can spend more or less time on the pitch, but there are young players coming through the whole time and they have to play. That changeover is happening now. And it wasn’t as if I didn’t feel so important any more. It was mostly a personal process. I spoke to my father and brothers a lot and decided to make the call. When you’re far away, you can think things through more calmly.
How much did the mental side of things influence your decision to retire from the national team? As a footballing superstar, it can’t be the same to play in Europe’s major leagues as it is Brazil or Japan.
(Pause) When you play in different places, you realise that there’s no such thing as easy football. You might be playing in a lesser league, but as a striker you still have to go out and score goals. Just because you get goals in Italy doesn’t mean you’re going to go and score lots in Spain or England. The same goes for any place you play. It also depends on how you adapt as a player. I came to Japan because it’s a competitive league. It’s not Europe, but they’ve got a good national side and players who are doing well in European football. If that hadn’t been the case, I wouldn’t have come.
Talking of footballers who are doing well in Europe, are you surprised by how quickly Luis Suarez has adapted to life at Barcelona, where he’s scoring goals and laying them on?
Not at all. When you’re as good as Luis it’s easy to adapt to teams like that. He’s always laid goals on in the national team, but now it’s easier to see that side of his game because he’s playing alongside the best player in the world. You got the feeling that he was always going to have more chances to score and create goals at Barcelona, and that he’d have more chance to show off his full range of attacking skills. When you’ve got [Lionel] Messi and Neymar with you, you’re going to have more space and better finishers around you. The three of them raise each others’ games.
You finished top scorer in the Spanish league on two occasions, which is no mean achievement. How do you feel when you see Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo make it look so easy?
(Laughs) It’s amazing. I think I was the last one to win the Pichichi (La Liga’s leading goalscorer accolade) before they started to share it between themselves. It’s the same with the European Golden Shoe, except the year in which Luis shared it with Cristiano. You just can’t compete with them. I can’t see anyone else taking over their mantle just yet, not with the competition between them and their desire to outdo each other. They’ve still got a few years ahead of them too.
*Back to Uruguay now. How do you rate their chances at the Copa America?
*Pretty good. There’s new blood in the team now, with very promising players like Diego Rolan, to give just one example. Uruguay are going to miss Luis, but they’ve played some great games without him and have been just as effective, which says a lot about the team. The important thing is to get out of the group. After that it’s knockout football, where the better team wins. That’s a different type of competition, as Uruguay showed in Argentina four years ago.
One last question. Of all the records you’ve set with La Celeste, which one are you most proud of?
(Pause) A big one for me is belonging to a family with three generations of players who’ve won the Copa America, a unique achievement in the history of world football. My grandfather won it twice, my father once and me once. I’m also amazed by the number of games I played. When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to the stadium for free. That was because the Uruguayan FA gave him a free ticket for having played over 45 matches with the national team. I feel so proud to have played more than 100 times for my country, especially when I think of all the great players the country has produced over the years.