Diego Forlan, the Uruguayan striker, has joined Japanese club Cerezo Osaka on an 18-month contract.
The former Independiente, Manchester United, Villarreal, Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan striker will leave Brazilian club Internacional and join his new club in time for the new season which starts on March 1.
Forlan, 34, had been with the Porto Alegre club since 2012, but finances are tight at a club who have been forced to play their home games elsewhere while their stadium is rebuilt for the World Cup. He started well for Inter and was the top goalscorer in last season’s Guacho championship; but the inexperienced side struggled in the Brazilian league and dismissed their coach Dunga. They also sold Forlan’s Brazilian international strike partner Leandro Damiao to Santos for R$41 million (Dh63.4m).
It is a coup for Cerezo to sign the twice European golden boot winner who was also the joint top goalscorer in the last World Cup finals, where he won the Golden Ball for being the tournament’s best player.
Forlan won wide praise in Japan for his performance in a friendly there in August, scoring twice in a 4-2 win against the fellow World Cup finalists. His strike partner Luis Suarez was at the heart of both goals.
Forlan was happy at Inter and living in Brazil ahead of the World Cup finals, but speculation began to mount about his departure in recent weeks, with offers from North America and Europe. Brazilian side Botafogo were understood to be keen to sign him to spearhead their Copa Libertadores campaign. Their player manager Clarence Seedorf left them for coach AC Milan last week, freeing up space in their budget. But much as Forlan would like to play in the Libertadores, his club were understood to be reluctant to sell him to a domestic rival – just as Forlan did not want to leave Inter and play for a domestic rival.
“I was happy at Inter and had a great relationship with everyone, but the one offer which stood out for me was from Japan,” Forlan said as he signed the forms to complete the negotiations at his home in Porto Alegre on Tuesday. “I’ve played in Japan three or four times and always enjoyed the atmosphere in the stadiums, what culture I’ve seen and the people have always been very friendly. I’m really looking forward to joining Cerezo and doing my best for my new team.”
Forlan has no fears about the J League hampering his chances of being in the Uruguay squad for the World Cup finals.
“It’s not the Premier League or La Liga, but the standard of football is high, improving and the league is very competitive,” Forlan said. “I saw Cerezo draw with Manchester United pre-season and they were praised for playing so well. I’m also in really good condition and want to play for as long as possible. Cerezo are a well established club with huge support in from a big city. I’m really excited about the move.”
Cerezo, who count Shinji Kagawa among their former players, finished fourth in the 2013 J League, four points behind champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Just nine points separated the top eight clubs, with Cerezo one of four teams to qualify for the 2014 AFC Champions League alongside UAE sides Al Ain, Al Ahli, Al Jazira and Baniyas. The winner of this will play in the 2014 Fifa Club World Cup.
Forlan will be the highest profile player in the 20-year-old J League, whose new season starts on March 1, but breaks from May 17 to July 19 to help players prepare for the World Cup finals. Cerezo’s Japanese internationals Yoichiro Kakitani and Hotaru Yamaguchi will appreciate the break – as will Forlan.
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