Sometimes achieving hero status at a club can take a while. You labour long and hard for a club, offering dedicated service, often playing through injury, and never giving less than 100% effort for the cause. For others, however, there’s an aura that they bring with them, they fit perfectly into the template that the club – and the fans – are looking for. When Les Ferdinand joined Newcastle United in 1995 as the St James Park club paid QPR £6million for his services, he was already an established star, an England international and the complete article as a centre forward. The famous Newcastle United number nine shirt fitted him like a glove.
In his first term with the club, Ferdinand’s goals and powerful presence leading the Magpies’ line convinced, many on the Gallowgate decided that here was the next true Geordie hero in that famous striped shirt. Heir the likes of Milburn, under the tutelage and rampaging ethos of Kevin Keegan, Ferdinand delivered from the off.
Netting 25 times in just 37 league outings, Ferdinand’s arrival and contribution was one of the main reasons that Newcastle were to come oh-so-close to lifting the Premier League title. At one stage, they were twelve points clear of rivals Manchester United, but Ferguson’s team’s relentless pursuit eventually wore down Keagan’s entertainers, being crowned champions by four clear points. A disastrous run from the end of February saw four defeats and a draw in six games, as the wheels came off and Ferguson eased his team over the line.
It was a time when what was truly an outstanding season for the club felt so much like a loss. Newcastle had come closer than any of the Toon Army had dared hope to that title, and in the wake of that disappointing run, Keagan felt that further team strengthening was required. For Ferdinand however, the season was a personal triumph. As well as his goal haul, he was named as Player of the Season, and given a place in the Premier League Team of the Season. Of all the positions in Keagan’s squad, it seemed that the one least likely in need of added strength was the strike force. The manager though had other ideas. Ferdinand’s strike partner in that fantasy line up – Alan Shearer of Blackburn Rovers – would be the surprise addition to the Newcastle squad, with a world record price tag hanging around him.
When the home town hero returned to his native Newcastle, Ferdinand was persuaded to hand over the number nine short to the new arrival, and although it was probably never said in such frank terms, the position of the club’s key striker was also passed on at the same time. To his credit, Ferdinand accepted the move with good grace. Whilst many others would have been tempted to stamp their feet petulantly at such a perceived insult, and demand a transfer, Ferdinand merely buckled down, continuing to give of his best in the interests of the club.
The following term, with Shearer now positioned alongside him, although perhaps the reverse description would be more accurate, Ferdinand played both goalscorer and provider. Still managing to notch an impressive 21 strikes across all competitions, he also provided the muscle and power as Shearer’s side-kick; a role that hugely contributed to the club skipper scoring 25 league goals and topping the Premier League scoring charts. At the end of the term, Newcastle would again fill the runners-up spot to Manchester United, but this time, the yawning gap of seven points reflected a more season-long forlorn quest to topple the champions, rather than any late calamitous fall. It was a pursuit hardly helped when Kegan surprisingly decided to quit the manager’s chair midway through the season, being replaced by Kenny Dalglish. The move also heralded the end of Ferdinand’s time at St James Park.
Despite Keegan’s avowed adherence to ‘cavalry charge’ football, with the two-pronged forward line of Shearer and Ferdinand, Dalglish had other ideas. By the end of the season, it was clear that one of the two strikers would be moved on to raise funds for other purchases. There was no way the onus would fall on Shearer, Ferdinand was inevitably the fall guy.
It seems likely that, in an ideal world, Dalglish would have preferred to keep both his star strikers, but with Shearer the established and undoubted number one choice, it would have meant an extended time out of the team for Ferdinand, and at that time of his career, it was never going to be a viable proposition. When Spurs came in with a bid that would give Newcastle the money back that they had paid to QPR for Ferdinand’s services two years previously, the club accepted the bid, and Ferdinand took a ‘Shearer-esque’ move himself – also returning to the club he had followed as boy.
Some moves work out better than others however, and often emotion can cloud judgement. Although the striker would stay at White Hart Lane for some five seasons, he never hit the heights of goalscoring prowess that he had achieved in black and white stripes. His 33 league goals for Spurs across those five seasons compares unfavourably compared to 42 strikes in just two years at St James Park. Ferdinand too, later regretted the move. Saying later to Sky that he had wanted to “stay at Newcastle for the rest his career.”
Two years is a short time to endear yourself to a group of fans, but there was an undoubted affection between Les Ferdinand and the fans on the Gallowgate and around St James Park. In 1997, during his first game back at the ground wearing Spurs colours, Ferdinand was moved by the fans’ reaction to him. Talking to the Newcastle Chronicle, he related that, “At the end of the game, as soon as the whistle went, all the supporters started singing my name. Jesus,” he added. “I didn’t expect that. It was unreal. When I speak to people now and say I was only in Newcastle for two years, they cannot believe it.
(This article was originally produced for the Pundit feed website).
Whilst the names of Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani would, in all probability, be the initial responses to any request to name the top Uruguayan strikers, surely close behind would come Diego Forlán – and if he doesn’t, he certainly should. Appearing for La Celeste, Suarez scored 55 goals, with Cavani netting 46. Not far behind though is Forlán with 36. As with the other two strikers, as well as succeeding in South America, Forlán made his name in a number of Europe’s top leagues where competition is fierce, and goals are at a premium. From there trips to Japan, back to South America and then India and Hong Kong with an accompanying chorus of goals showed that regardless of location, league and language, putting the ball into the back of the net is of universal value.
Diego Forlán was born in May 1979 in Montevideo and, after beginning his professional career in Argentina, he would play in the English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, scoring goals as he went. He would also be awarded the FIFA Golden Ball as the best player in the 2010 World Cup, and become his country’s most capped player. Any discussion of Uruguay’s top strikers must surely include Diego Forlán, and a closer examination of his career merely underscores that assertion.
A four-season spell with Independiente set the ball rolling. Although he only played a couple of games in his first season there, without troubling the scorers, across the following three seasons, Forlán built a reputation as a regular goalscorer, with a rate of finding the net that improved as he went along. Seven goals from 24 games was decent if hardly spectacular in 1999-2000, but this improved to 20 in 42 games and then 13 in just 23. It was enough to persuade Sir Alex Ferguson to take him to Manchester United.
The transfer may not have done the striker any favours. Dropping into the rough and tumble of Premier League football can be an unsettling time for any player and as this was Forlán’s first playing experience outside of South America, it’s perhaps not surprising that he didn’t flourish. Despite that and a return of just 17 goals in a shade less than a century of appearances, he still collected a Premier League winner’s medal in 2002-03 season and an FA Cup winner’s medal the following year. If the English game may not have suited the talents of the Uruguayan, his next move was certainly more to his taste.
Moving to La Liga, and returning to a more familiar culture with a language he was comfortable with, produced probably the best and certainly most productive period of Forlán’s career. Joining Villareal in 2004, he struck top form immediately, scoring an outstanding 25 goals in 39 games across all competitions. As well as the goals lifting the club into third place and a debut season in the Champions League, it took the Intertoto Cup to Villareal. Forlán won the Pichichi award for the league’s top scorer, and shared the UEFA Golden Shoe as the top scorer across the continent. He was also awarded the Trofeo given to the top Latin player in La Liga for the season. If Old Trafford had been a downturn, the Yellow Submarine was certainly no dive for Diego Forlán. Villareal were hardly one of the premier clubs in Spain, and to be the country’s leading marksman when playing for them was remarkable.
Unsurprisingly, as his reputation grew, defences were paying more attention to the Uruguayan striker and in the following season his strike rate dipped a little, netting 13 goals from 47 games. His situation wasn’t helped by disruption at the cub. The next season would be a real test, but form and goals returned as he secured a highly respectable 21 strikes at a rate of a goal every other game. It was enough to see him catapulted into an almost impossible position.
In June 2007, no longer able to resist the money offered by the Premier League, Atlético Madrid sold Fernando Torres to Liverpool, and decided that Diego Forlán was the man to replace him at the Vicente Calderón. A fee of €21 million was agreed and the Uruguayan had the mammoth task of making the loss of El Niño appear insignificant. No pressure then!
Although adjusting to a different club and a new way of playing under the individualistic promptings of Diego Simeone, 23 goals in his first season was entirely satisfactory, but in 2008-09, he would improve greatly on that as he and the team became more accustomed to each other. No less than 35 strikes in just 45 appearances took him to another Pichichi award and, this time, sole ownership of the European Golden Shoe. A further 28 goals the following season saw Atleti win the Europa League, with Forlán’s brace being the deciding factor in the win over Fulham. Understandably, he was named as UEFA Europa League Final Man of The Match.
In the summer, along with his Uruguayan colleagues, Forlán travelled to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. It would be one of the country’s most successful runs in the tournament of recent years, and a personal triumph for the striker. Uruguay would finish fourth, and as well as sharing the title of top scorer in the tournament, Forlán would be awarded the Golden Ballas the outstanding player, be selected for the FIFA Dream Team and his right-footed volley from the edge of the penalty area against Germany was judged the Goal of the Tournament.
Later, returning to club football, he would help Atlético win the UEFA Super Cup, defeating Inter Milan in the final. The new season however would see his worst goalscoring return in his time with the club. Ten goals in more than 40 games suggested a downturn. Now 32 years old, when Inter approached the Spanish club with a view to taking Forlán to Lombardy to replace the departing Samuel Eto’o, Simeone took the deal and Diego Forlán moved to his fourth different league, joining Serie A on a two-year deal. Unsurprisingly, given his age, he wouldn’t recapture the form and strike he enjoyed in Spain.
In that summer’s Copa América, held in Argentina, Forlán demonstrated that his abilities on the international stage hadn’t been dulled by the advancing years. He played in every game for Uruguay as La Celeste went through the tournament undefeated. Indeed, Forlán would net two of the three goals in the final that ensured the trophy would go to Montevideo.
After the summer of success, things started brightly enough in Serie A. On his debut for the Nerazzurri, Forlán scored in a 4-3 victory over Palermo. It would, however, be the high point of an otherwise disappointing and frustrating time for the striker. He would only score one more goal, and at the end of the season, Inter would release him from his second year. The player would lament his time with the club, explaining his lack of goals to being played out of position, and the expectations to be able to replace Eto’o as he had successfully done with Torres.
At 33, it was time to quit Europe, and release from the Nerazzurri contract led to a move from Internazionale in Italy’s Serie A to Internacional in Brazil’s Série A. A first season return of five goals in 19 games improved to 17 in 36 in the second year, but even in the less physically demanding Brazilian league, 35 year-old legs were finding it difficult, and an opportunity to travel to Japan offered a prospect of greater longevity with a move to Cerezo Osaka. It was hardly a successful experience. Despite scoring 17 times in his 18 months with the club, Osaka were relegated at the end of his first term there and then failed to regain their status. An emotional return to Peñarol, his boyhood club, offered a sentimental journey back home and an 18 month contract not only brought eight goals, it also led to the club lifting the championship trophy.
Despite the triumph, it had only been a brief agreement to play there, and in an emotional press conference afterwards, Forlán announced he would be leaving the club. Brief sojourns in India with Mumbai City and then Hong Kong with Kitchee followed – with five goals at each club – before he played his final professional game in May 2018, less than a week before his 39th birthday.
There’s little doubt that, Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani are more celebrated as strikers in the modern game, but neither has ever won the FIFA World Cup Golden Boot. Diego Forlán has. It’s true that Suárez has won the UEFA Golden Shoe, as has Forlán, but Cavani has yet to achieve the accolade. Suárez has also won the Pichichi title once. Forlán did so on two occasions, and whilst Suárez achieved the title playing for a star-studded Barcelona team, Forlán won his whilst at Villareal and then when featuring for an Atlético Madrid side struggling to recover from the loss of Fernando Torres. So, perhaps if someone asks about the top Uruguayan striker, remember the career and achievements of Diego Forlán, the much travelled and most underrated of Uruguayan goal scorers
(This article was originally produced for the punditfeed.com website – https://punditfeed.com/nostalgia/diego-forlan-uruguay/)
If the sobriquet of ‘Dolly and Daisy’ sounds like a double act from an Old Time Musical Hall playbill, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that, thanks to their manager, it was in fact the nom de guerre of the most successful central defensive pairings of the early Premier League years. Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister were the pair in question, and they would write their names large into the history of the most successful football club of the time. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance that the pairing had on the development of Manchester United’s domestic dominance, when Sir Alex Ferguson built his dynasty of success. Suffice to say however, that the unassuming pair at the heart of the Old Trafford backline was the rock upon which the Scot relied over a seven-year partnership jammed full with trophies. Continue reading →
After taking the job as manager of the national team in 1963, using calm, measured terms, and with an understated confidence bereft of any braggart posturing, Alf Ramsey publicly declared that England would win the World Cup in 1966. Not that they might, or that they could, or even that they should; but very definitely that they would. Those practised, clipped tones were simply stating facts. England will win the World Cup in 1966. And they did! Of course, with hindsight it doesn’t sound so much ‘out there’ but back in 1963, to use the modern vernacular it took some bottle. Ramsey had one key factor on his side though, he knew that by adding his ideas and a few new faces to the players bequeathed him by Walter Winterbottom he could turn England into the best team in the world and one of the greatest in World Cup history. Continue reading →
It’s questionable whether there are many transfers involving expensive foreign imports to the English game that have evoked so much varied opinion as when Juan Sebastian Verón joined Manchester United from Lazio in July 2001. The deal was reported as being worth a then British record transfer fee, of around £28million. Continue reading →
“You have just seen the Premier League champions today!” So said Sir John Hall, purring with pleasure, speaking to a Sky Sports interviewer. It was 20th October 1996, and his Newcastle United team, under the charismatic guidance of Kevin Keegan, had just delivered the sort of spanking to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United the like of which the irascible Scot’s team were far more used to handing out rather than enduring. Geordie joy was fulsome, and they feasted on it. Sad to say though, for that passionate band of fans, it wasn’t the herald of a new dawn, it was the last flaring from the embers of a dying dream. Continue reading →
“Unthinkable surely for the skipper to miss.” It’s funny how things work out sometimes. The next words were, “But he has!” Jock Brown, commentating on the 1994 Scottish League Cup Final at Ibrox, uttered that particular harbinger of doom for Celtic’s captain Paul McStay in the penalty shootout that decided the game. McStay saw his shot saved by Raith’s goalkeeper Scott Thompson and the Kirkcaldy club, managed by Jimmy Nicholl had secured the unlikeliest of cup triumphs.
The unlikeliest? Well, of course it’s always a major coup for any club outside of Glasgow’s top two to land a trophy and for a second tier club to do so, only added to the lustre. But there was more to it than that. A series of coincidences, links and cross-cutting threads about the game and various subsequent events, marked the game out as a watershed moment for both clubs. Continue reading →
Although the European Cup is the the preeminent competition for club football, and participation in it is regarded akin to a ‘coming out party’ as a top club for any who secures it, British clubs’ relationship with European competition was not always anything like fully committed. Continue reading →
It’s surely one of the greatest unofficial accolades that the game has to offer. No-one votes for it, not the press, not other players, not even the fans. Someone somewhere suggests it, and off it trots merrily making its way through the highways and byways of ‘football talk’. Eventually, it’s travelled the length and breadth of the football community, by common assent it becomes accepted as part of the lexicon of football. I’m talking about having an element of the game named after you. There’s the Panenka penalty, the Cruyff turn, the Makelele role and even Fergie time, to name but a few of the uncontentious – well, fairy uncontentious anyway – ones. Now, another nom de guerre may be seeking to elbow its way into the language of football. At the moment, there’s only the merest whisper of it being circulated. Isn’t that how it always begins though? Continue reading →
News of the television rights cash bonanza for Premier League clubs has caused tidal waves of outrage and floods of advice in fairly equal measures. £5.136billion is a lot of money in anyone’s language, and deflating that down to approximately £12million per game rather puts the price of the football’s top-notch match ticket prices somewhat into the shade – but more of that later. Continue reading →