CHENNAI: It was one of those incidents that shook modern football and sent rumour mills spinning. The most famous manager in the world taking on the world's most marketable player. Stories were abound on what exactly happened between Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and his one-time protege David Beckham in the early months of 2003. The rumours intensified when Beckham left the club for Real Madrid just months later.
But one of the few men who was in the room that night is playing his football in India these days. It may have been 13 years ago, but a sense of awe still descends upon Diego Forlan when he talks about that February night. “It was incredible,” is how he describes it.
The Uruguayan legend talks about Beckham, Fergie and lots of other things in this freewheeling chat with Express.
On Manchester United
The transition from South American football to Manchester United was okay. The problem was that in England, the speed of the game was different, and I did not have the opportunity to play every game. Most of the time, I was on the bench and had ten, five or fifteen minutes every game. So it's a lot more difficult to adapt and get the rhythm because you're not playing every weekend.
I very nearly joined Middlesbrough, before United came with an offer. But then, it's Alex Ferguson and it's Manchester United, so you can't say no. But the thing nobody knows is that when there was a possibility to move to Europe, the first team that came to talk to me was Manchester United.
It was unbelievable. I was always watching United and it was big, meeting players like Beckham, Laurent Blanc, (Ruud) Van Nistelrooy, (Paul) Scholes, (Roy) Keane, (Ryan) Giggs, (Fabien) Barthez. There were so many big names in the team then. It was difficult because not everybody could play, and some of them were on the bench. And most were either captains or key players in their national teams.
On Fergie vs Beckham
I was in the dressing room when that happened. It was incredible, you know. They were arguing and Ferguson was furious. He just kicked a boot and it went and hit Beckham on the head. That moment was something unbelievable.
On his Liverpool goals
It was a derby, and we were playing away. It was a difficult game. So it was great to have scored those two goals. And still now they remember it. Even towards the end of the recent United-Liverpool game, they were singing my name. At that time, I never thought they would be singing my name more than a decade later.
On joining United too early
Of course, sometimes I think I should have joined United at a later stage. But I'm happy I got the opportunity to go there and learn a lot. I scored important goals, won the league, an FA Cup and two Community Shields. Then of course, I went to Spain and was more mature. I was playing in a different way. Of course, it would have been better to return to United as a better and more regular player. But I am happy with how things went, and don't regret it.
On the Uruguay national team
We are very close. We have been through many years and many tournaments together. So we all want good things for the country and for the Uruguayan players. The best period I have had with the national team would be the 2010 World Cup and 2011 Copa America. Those two years were incredible.
The best player he has ever played with
(Paul) Scholes. Everybody knows that he is a good player, but he is not that marketable kind of a player that everybody keeps talking about. He is a very quiet person. But the quality he has and the things he has done are absolutely incredible. I saw him during training sessions and games. He is one of the best for sure. Him and (Luis) Suarez, you cannot compare because they are different players. But for me, it is Scholes for sure.
On India & Mumbai City
It's been really good, and I'm happy. Everyone's been great, all the people in the club and the fans. I have my family here with me as well.
The league has been good, and we've played many games. Sometimes it's too many. There are times when you can rest, but sometimes you have to travel a little bit more because it's a big country.
I try to do what I've done so far. In this league, sometimes there are only a few days between matches, and you have to travel. For example, tomorrow (Wednesday) we play Chennai, and then we have to face NorthEast on Saturday. You have to be a bit more careful with training. After a session, you have to stretch. You have to think a lot more about these kind of things.
The travel in ISL reminds me of Brazil. It's another big country. It's more or less the same. You play the league over 6-7 months, and fly all over the country.
On the future
I don't know how long I will play. I just want to enjoy my football. Coming back to India is definitely an option. If the team wants that, we'll see. But my wife and I are happy here, and the baby's satisfied as well, so we are really enjoying it here.