Former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan, who is playing for Mumbai City FC in the ISL this season, is in love with what he is experiencing in India. From the hot spices to the sacred cow to fear of match-fixing, Diego Forlan is enthralled by his everyday life in this nation.
In his guest column for the UAE-based The National, Forlan wrote about what he has experienced so far in the Subcontinent. He spoke about playing alongside a fellow South American in Matias Defedrico, who scored the winning goal in Mumbai’s opening game against Pune.
"I played my first game in India on Tuesday for my new team Mumbai City in a 1-0 derby victory at Pune City. I enjoyed it and assisted our goal for our Argentine forward Matias Defederico, flicking the ball to him with my heel. It felt great to be part of a goal once again, I missed that feeling. Like me, he once played for the mighty Independiente in Buenos Aires. He is 27, a decade younger than me and he also played for Argentina. Let’s hope we can combine well.
"I started alone as a centre forward which was a challenge and meant I didn’t have many chances, but I dropped back and got involved in the game. My manager, the Brazilian Alexandre Guimaraes, seemed happy. He was the manager of Costa Rica in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups," he wrote.
The 37-year-old left his boyhood club Penarol back in July before signing for the Mumbai-based club. Despite looking a bit rusty in his opening two games, Forlan has already assisted the winner in the first game and has scored the winner from the spot in the second. The former Manchester United striker is confident of getting back to his best with more time on the pitch.
"It was my first competitive game since June and I will get better with more matches, as will our new team which is still coming together. There are plenty of games in India – every three or four days over a two month period. My second one is Friday night, our first home game against North East United. There is a game each evening in the ISL, with each match televised at 7pm over 61 days. Interest is high and the average attendance across the whole league was 27,000 last year. The facilities are decent and the organization levels for teams are high.
"I arrived here after a few weeks pre-season training in the UAE. It was too hot to train in the day so we trained at night – including on the beach. Then we moved to Mumbai,” Forlan added.
Forlan also opened up on why he cannot eat the hot and spicy Indian food, how the issue of match-fixing has affected their freedom to use the mobile in the dressing room, and about how, despite being a cricket-crazy nation, football’s popularity is gaining momentum.
"I’m staying in a fantastic hotel and my family are with me, but while they visit the Taj Mahal and India’s various sites, I will see the country in another way as we fly about to matches. I’ve not had too much of the classic Indian food yet, maybe the hot spices are not what I should be eating before running around for 90 minutes in often humid conditions.
"It is the eighth country where I have played for a club and each has their own culture. In India, you have to give up your phone as you leave the team coach. Match fixing has been an issue here in the past and to avoid any betting there are no phones allowed in the dressing room. That’s a first for me, but I’m all for sport being clean.
"Cricket is the most popular sport here. I watched a bit of it when I lived in England and while I couldn’t understand how two teams could play each other for five days and for the game to then be a draw, I liked it. I’m watching more here. You see cricket pitches everywhere. You also see sacred cows walking around the streets and the big contrast between the rich and the poor, but people of all classes seem to play and love cricket.
"Football is becoming more popular and with a billion Indians, there is a huge potential for football here to improve – though it will take time. The average attendance makes the ISL one of the top 10 best supported leagues in the world and Kerala Blasters had a crowd of 64,900 on Wednesday, while Kolkata is a football city. The overall crowds are incredible for a country which is obsessed by cricket," Forlan penned.