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Jun 15, 2005

Forlan idol

Sir Alex Ferguson probably choked on his cornflakes when he discovered the identity of the man who went halfers with Thierry Henry on this season's ESM Golden Boot award a couple of weeks back.

That man was, of course, former United flop and Jordan tribute act Diego Forlan, who, since signing for Villareal last summer, has been scoring with the kind of regularity that would make even Britain's favourite rent-a-chest blush.

On the last day of the La Liga the lavishly tressed front man was at it again - the epitome of clinical cool as he notched a double against Levante to take his season's tally to 25. That placed him top of the Spanish scoring charts, ahead of the likes of Samuel E'too and Ronaldo, and secured him a part share of the Golden Boot.

Forlan's goals have played a huge part in ensuring that Villareal - who hail from a town with a population smaller than the average Old Trafford gate - will take part in the Champions League for the first time in their history.

'I have to admit that I'm surprised that my first season in Spain went so well,' says the modest Uruguayan. 'I never expected to score so many goals so soon.

'Being in a small town like this is great for me, and I love the fact that I've helped Villareal make history by reaching the Champions League.

'Becoming top scorer in Europe would have been worth nothing to me if we'd failed to gain a place in the Champions League. That is the thing I feel happiest about right now.'

For Manchester United fans, Forlan's goalscoring feats for Villareal, after two and a half woeful years at Old Trafford that produced just 10 league goals, must be as baffling as the accounting laws they have been forced to try and comprehend over the past few troubled months.

The Uruguayan himself has a few ideas as to what went wrong.

'I'm not trying to make excuses, but the language barrier was definitely part of the problem for me. But there was also the fact that everything happened so quickly. As soon as I arrived at United, all the fans seemed to expect me to score two goals a game. There was a lot of pressure and it got to me.

I'll never forget Sir Alex Ferguson. At Christmas, everyone was invited to a dinner, and the manager and his coaching staff all worked as waiters. I was served by Ferguson himself. Nobody back home believes me when I tell them this.
Diego Forlan
'There were lots of players with monster reputations at the club, and I was the last one in the queue. I didn't get enough time on the pitch to prove my quality. That was very tough for me.

'At Villareal nobody rushed me. The coach, Manuel Pellegrini was very calm and he wasn't in a hurry for me to score, simply because the supporters weren't in a hurry. Obviously I have been given more time on the pitch at Villareal, but also, I have not put myself under so much pressure here. And I think that is part of the reason why I have scored so many goals.'

He will not, though, hear a word against his kindly old boss at United who, it transpires, even went out of his way to serve the Uruguayan a turkey dinner at Christmas. A reciprocal gesture of sorts perhaps, and one not without irony, given that Fergie must have felt he'd been well and truly stuffed after his £7 million signing from Independiente proved to be something of a turkey himself.

'I'll never forget Sir Alex Ferguson,' gushes Forlan. 'His name is synonymous with Manchester United. Despite the fact that it's such a huge club, it is also a family. I know a lot of people won't believe me when I say this, but I really enjoyed being part of the United family. Everyone is very close-knit.

'Let me give you an example. At Christmas, everyone involved at the club was invited to a dinner, and the manager and his coaching staff all worked as waiters and served the players their meals. I was served by Ferguson himself. Nobody back home believes me when I tell them this.'

Forlan, in understandably generous mood, says that United can share in the credit for his success this season.

'I have nothing but good words for the supporters and the people at the club for the way they treated me. Hopefully they feel happy for me right now, and United can take some of the credit for what I've achieved in Spain this season, because the things I learnt in Manchester was, in some ways, a positive experience that has contributed to my success.'

As joint Golden Boot holder, Forlan's stock in the European market this summer will be once more gilt-edged, but the Uruguayan insists he will be staying put at Villareal as they embark on their maiden Champions League adventure.

Forlan gave up looking for the net at Old Trafford just as he neared a breakthrough.
Forlan gave up looking for the net at Old Trafford just as he neared a breakthrough.

And he is hoping that the Champions League draw might just throw up a reunion with his old United chums.

'If Manchester United could appear at the El Madrigal it would be a fantastic experience for me. I respect all teams, but Manchester United is a very, very big club.

And despite his experiences at Old Trafford first time round, the Uruguayan says he would still love the chance to rejoin Sir Alex Ferguson and co for more seasonal fun at some point down the line.

'I know that I am going to go back to England one day ... and I would like it to be to United.'

Not so long ago, such a notion would have prompted a mixture of dread and ridicule in Manchester. Now, though, it might not seem such a bad idea.


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