Diego Forlan is probably relaxing in a Cape Town hotel right now. He’ll sleep tonight on the eve of arguably the biggest match of his twelve-year professional career, as Uruguay stand one game from the World Cup Final. Many of the tournament’s ‘stars’ have been accused (by some) of under-performing when the moment addresses them throughout the past month. However, this particular Uruguayan could possess all the mental fortitude to take his country to Soccer City on Sunday, for the story of Diego Forlan stems from something far deeper than sipping Cristal at China White’s, or textual relations with someone other than his partner.
At twelve years old, Forlan played tennis, not football. His father a Uruguayan international, the younger Forlan appeared fully committed to turning his back on the family business, preferring the hard courts of Montevideo to the grass of the football fields. His love of his family, however, would be the tragic catalyst for Forlan’s rise to superstardom on the football pitch.
Forlan’s sister, Alejandra, dreamt of becoming a model. At the age of 17, she and her boyfriend Gonzalo sped down a rain-lashed road, and their car spun violently into a palm tree. Gonzalo was killed instantly, whilst Alejandra fought for her life with Diego at her bedside. Alejandra was told she would never walk again, and her younger brother made a promise: To become an international footballer, and pay for any treatment his sibling would need for her injuries. In tragedy, a star was born.
With Forlan’s funding, Alejandra went on to complete a degree in psychology, overcoming depression stemming from her injuries in the process. Diego played for a variety of teams throughout South America before settling with Independiente, scoring a goal every two games in a solid four year period. His infamous £7.5 million transfer to Manchester United left Forlan with a mountain to climb to resurrect his career from a spell in England blighted by inconsistency, and visceral baiting from the English press. Once again, Forlan exhibited the mental toughness his sister preached, and during a three-season period with Villareal the Uruguayan netted an impressive 54 goals, sharing the European Golden Boot with Theirry Henry in 2005. He repeated this feat in 2009 with Athletico Madrid, scoring an outstanding 32 goals in only 33 appearances during the La Liga. He completed the exorcism of all his English-football demons during a scintillating set of performances in the 2010 Europa League, scoring and defeating two English teams on the way to lifting the trophy for ‘Athleti’.
Fast-forward a month to Pretoria. Forlan’s 30-yard wonder-strike opens the scoring for Uruguay against the host nation, and the first stone of their path to the final is laid. The 31-year-old went on to score a second that night, in addition to a swerving, ducking free-kick against Ghana to set-up tomorrow’s clash with the Dutch. If it all ends in victory, Diego will celebrate bare-chested as ever, his blonde locks leaving him looking more like an Adonis in Ancient Greece than a superstar striker from South America. Beyond the posturing, however, Forlan’s mind will no doubt be on Alejandra, and the mutual pride shared between the sibling pairing whose sacrifices and lives are worlds apart.
In a world where sex, drugs and violence lay too abundant in world football, Diego Forlan’s legacy is something Uruguay, FIFA and Forlan himself can be proud of.