Diego Forlan might get the lowdown on Fulham ahead of Wednesday's Europa League final from an unexpected source – Sir Alex Ferguson. His manager for two and a half years at Old Trafford called the Uruguayan striker after he played against Arsenal in the Champions' League semi-final in 2006.
"Diego, this guy says he's Alex Ferguson," Forlan remembers being told by a friend who took the call. "I thought it had to be a joke but it was him. Later he came to my hotel and we spoke face to face."
Ferguson's enduring fondness for Forlan belies the way he decided to call time on the forward's Old Trafford career in 2004. Writing in Forlan's recently published biography, he admits: "I reluctantly let him go for next to nothing, a bad judgement on my behalf, but I was happier than anyone when he became a success."
Forlan won two Golden Boots after leaving United and has no regrets about a 30-month stint that left him with a League and FA Cup medal. He also sat in on one of football's most famous dressing-room dramas: David Beckham, Sir Alex and the flying boot.
He remembers how after the two men's blazing row after a defeat by Arsenal, Beckham said something just as Ferguson was leaving the dressing room, prompting him to turn and kick Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's right boot which lay in the middle of the dressing room. "It seemed to happen in slow motion, like something out of The Matrix. It could have hit him with the softest part of the boot but no. It was the long aluminum studs that hit him on the eyebrow."
Forlan's ultimate downfall at United owed something to those long studs. After years of wearing shorter studs on dry South American pitches he could not get used to the change and, with a sympathetic kit-man's support, continued with the shorter-studded boots, against Fergie's wishes.
But in August 2004, United were 1-0 down against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea and with five minutes left Forlan was put through but he fell, missing the ball and a chance to earn United a point. He recalls racing back to the dressing room to try to change boots before he was discovered but says: "I took off my right boot and hid it. But as I was taking off the left one I saw Ferguson coming towards me. He was very angry: 'That is just fantastic, Diego. Nobody is going to save you now.' He grabbed the boot that I had not even had time to take off and threw it against the wall."
The hairdryer treatment followed, first from Fergie and then from Roy Keane, and Forlan moved to Villarreal shortly after. But his respect for his old manager and captain remains.
"He was so competitive, a great team-mate," he says of Keane. And he still holds dear one piece of advice Ferguson drummed into his misfiring striker about not obsessing with shooting into the corners but instead concentrating on hitting the target.
Last year when he won his second Golden Boot, Forlan hit 32 goals in 33 games for Atletico. This season has been good, too, with semi-final strikes against Liverpool setting up Wednesday's final. It's all a far cry from that miserable return in England.
On Wednesday night, Fulham will bring back mixed memories. One of the 17 goals he scored in those 95 games for United came against Fulham, but it didn't stop Forlan and United going down in a 3-1 defeat.Reuse content