Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

Diego Forlan: Man United fans still approach me to talk about goals I scored at Anfield 14 years ago

Our columnist recalls his memorable matches against Liverpool as the two English heavyweights get ready to renew their rivalry in the Premier League on Sunday.
Antonio Valencia of Manchester United, right, is tackled by Roberto Firmino of Liverpool during the Premier League match  at Anfield on October 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England. Clive Brunskill / Getty Images
Antonio Valencia of Manchester United, right, is tackled by Roberto Firmino of Liverpool during the Premier League match at Anfield on October 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England. Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

Diego Forlan writes a weekly column for The National, appearing each Friday. The former Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid striker has been the top scorer in Europe twice and won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup. Forlan’s column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

It was November 2003 and I was playing for Manchester United at the famous Anfield stadium. I was in form and had scored in the previous four United matches – including one of my favourite goals against Glasgow’s Rangers.

Alex Ferguson had reason to pick me, not only because I was playing well, but because I was playing away at Liverpool, where I had scored both goals in the previous season as United won.

There was a slight break in play and I heard the 3,000 fans in the away end loud and clear. “Diego,” they sang, “Wooahh, Diego, wooaah. He came from Uruguay, he made the Scousers cry.”

I allowed myself a second to enjoy the moment. I could do that because Roy Keane was not playing that day and he would be the one to notice if you switched off for even a moment with his own very different “Diego” words.

These fans sang with their Manchester accents louder than anything the Liverpool fans could come up with.

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As they sang their beautiful song that they still sing to this day, I thought: “I am a lucky man. This is the type of moment that you dream of as a boy, the type of thing I’ve worked so hard for.”

Then I was back to concentrating on the game.

Football is funny. Everything was going in my favour to score that day, but I did not. Ryan Giggs scored two and we won again, 2-1. The away end had reason to sing over and over again and we were all happy on the short journey back to Manchester.

I am looking forward to Sunday’s game at Old Trafford. It will be different from the last time England’s two most successful teams met last October.

United were cautious then and wanted to avoid defeat, which they managed in a 0-0 draw. I think United are now full of confidence after nine straight wins and will want three points.

There is more pressure on United to win if they are going to move above sixth place and into the top four, but the players at this level and in these type of games are used to the pressure.

They live for these sorts of matches, those roars from the crowd when the teams are attacking. That is all Jose Mourinho wants to hear from fans and why he asked for more support after Tuesday’s game against Hull City.

He needs the fans behind the team because Liverpool are a top side and fans really can make a difference and create a momentum. He does not want the Liverpool players to feel comfortable, though players at that level are used to playing at hostile away grounds.

I hope United win and I think they will. They are at home and they are on a great run. Morale is high. It will be very tough because Liverpool are very strong under Jurgen Klopp this season. They are five points clear of United, sitting second behind leaders Chelsea.

When I played, Liverpool were usually well behind us in the table, but United are coming back from a three-year slump and Liverpool have only lost two games this season.

I do not think Klopp will be defensive like Mourinho was at Anfield. I think he will have more confidence in the attacking abilities of his team.

The pitch at Old Trafford is much bigger than Anfield. Former Liverpool players did not like it, but the current team can use it to their advantage because they have enough attacking players to find space and punish United.

They were good enough to get a draw in the Europa League in April and are better now. In fact both teams are.

If Liverpool attack it will suit United. It will lead to an open game, which is beautiful for the fans and for the top players who want that type of match because it is the best way to show off their talents. They do not want to see seven defenders behind the ball.

I think Liverpool are good enough to go for it and they are at their best when they are going forward. They know that if they are to win the league then they have to beat their rivals. You have to beat the best to be the best.

Like the fans who will fill Old Trafford and those who will watch around the world, I cannot wait.

I am in Uruguay at the moment, where many people will watch the match. People in South America love these types of games, two teams going at each other for 90 minutes.

The line-ups will be packed with top players: Juan Mata, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for United; Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino for Liverpool.

I am thankful that I played in several of those games and cannot believe that the fans still sing about me and still come up to me all around the world to remind me of goals I scored there 14 years ago. It happens all the time, in airports and hotels.

I will join those United fans in the stands one day. I would love to watch them play against Liverpool.

I also scored there for Atletico Madrid to knock Liverpool out of the Europa League – and to be fair the Liverpool fans were very sporting that night and applauded me at the end, which surprised and impressed me.

I doubt they will be applauding the United players should they get beat on Sunday, though.

sports@thenational.ae

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Updated: January 12, 2017 04:00 AM

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