Forlan comes calling

Uruguay's Diego Forlan acknowledges the crowd prior to a friendly soccer match between two local teams in Kolkata.-AP

A crowd, 50,000-strong, thronged the Salt Lake stadium to witness the latest favourite star of world football make his only public appearance in Kolkata. Otherwise, Diego Forlan was kept mostly away from public glare during his three-day long stay, reports Amitabha Das Sharma.

The long line of World Cup greats trekking down to Kolkata, the Mecca of Indian football, keeps increasing even though the standard of football in India fails to flatter anyone's fancy. Diego Forlan, the owner of the Golden Ball of World Cup 2010, was the latest star to join the bandwagon and the soccer-crazy city, which so long had brushed shoulders with only retired luminaries, was eager to make the three-day stay of the Uruguayan a memorable one.

A crowd, 50,000-strong, thronged the Salt Lake stadium to witness the latest favourite star of world football make his only public appearance in the city. Otherwise, Forlan was kept mostly on a tight leash, away from public glare by the event promoters who paid up his hefty bills to guest star in a football reality show. While all his fine ball playing skills, that his fans would have loved to see from close quarters, were canned in video tapes by his host, the city was charmed by a brief appearance he made to the centre of the pitch, kicking off an exhibition match between a Mohun Bagan combine and selection of teenagers from the show.

Significantly, Forlan came close on the heels of former Brazilian greats Romario and Branco, all playing a part in India's latest television fad of any and every kind of reality shows. The latest one rather ostentatiously, given India's less than impressive FIFA ranking, is to realise a World Cup finals appearance dream by picking a handful of nondescript players from the districts. While Romario, voted the FIFA World Player of 1994, and Branco found it hard to strike a chord with the public with their Portuguese tongue, Forlan was at ease in English, dissecting Uruguay's magical World Cup run for the byte-hungry journalists.

Rating his long-range effort against Germany in the third-place play-off match as his best, Forlan also expressed disappointment in failing to equalise in the fag end of the match. “The German players are tall so I tried to keep the ball close to the bar. It is sad that it hit the bar instead,” he said.

Making it clear that scepticism is yet to be a part of his philosophy, the 31-year-old striker said he was not bothered about the late recognition of his talent. “It feels nice to be recognised as the best player of the world. That is more important to me. It doesn't matter when it came,” Forlan said. Relishing his new status as the most valuable footballer on earth, he said winning the Golden Ball was definitely the most cherished moment of his career.

“The Golden Ball is the recognition for all-round excellence and I rate it over the Golden Boot which is for the best striker,” he said.

He expressed his commitment to the Spanish League and said: “I really grew as a player playing in La Liga. I played most of the matches for full 90 minutes and that has helped me evolve as a player.”

In whatever Forlan said or did in his short stay he charmed everyone with his sincerity and straightforwardness. It now remains to be seen how much influence his presence can exert on the young footballers who enjoyed his precious company.