x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Diego's Atletico's main man

Strikers thrive on confidence and need the trust of their manager, something Diego Forlan never received at Manchester United

Diego Forlan's double helped Atletico win the inaugural Europa League tournament.
Diego Forlan's double helped Atletico win the inaugural Europa League tournament.

Diego Forlan must be loving life at the moment. He's got the World Cup finals approaching with Uruguay and the Spanish Cup final next week. He scored goals home and away against Liverpool in the Europa League semi-finals, followed by two more as his Atletico Madrid side won the final 2-1 against Fulham in Hamburg on Wednesday.

I have never played with Diego, but he was effectively bought to replace me at Manchester United in 2002. It didn't work out for him as he had hoped and he only scored 10 goals in 62 games, although a lot of those games he started on the bench. Diego felt frustrated that Ruud van Nistelrooy was often started as the solitary striker and I can relate to that - it is one of the main reasons I left Old Trafford.

Diego felt the pressure. I've been there. Whereas Van Nistelrooy knew he was the main man and had the confidence of the manager, Forlan didn't. When he did get a chance, he had to perform. If he didn't, he was out of the team and the pressure would build even more. It was a negative cycle and I could see how his game was being affected. Strikers thrive on confidence. They like to be in the zone of knowing their teammates and manager believe in them. When they do not have that confidence, their game diminishes.

After two years at United, Diego moved to Villarreal in Spain and has since proved his quality beyond any doubt. He has finished top scorer twice in the Primera Liga and has two Golden Shoe awards for being the top scorer in Europe. Given those stats, you seriously have to wonder why he didn't make it in England. I really respect him as a striker. He is deceptively quick, has two good feet, never stops trying and gets in great positions between defenders. He has great movement and a natural instinct to finish, as he showed with his goals in Hamburg against Fulham.

Having played for Fulham in two different spells, I always watch out for their results. I went on loan there from Arsenal for three months in 1991 when they were then in England's third division. I drove across London every day in my pride and joy, an XR2 with go faster stripes. It was a horrible drive through the traffic and I had to take my own kit and wash it. That was a culture shock. Jimmy Hill was the Fulham chairman and he told me that he wanted to speak to me one day

"You think you're a bit of a player don't you?" Hill said. I didn't reply. "Whereas I don't think you're ever going to be a player," Hill went on. "That's your opinion," I replied. "You're entitled to it." Then I walked out. I never spoke to him for years until he came up to me when I was at Manchester United and said "Remember that chat we had? I was wrong wasn't I?" "You definitely were wrong," I replied, and walked away. What I did not tell Hill was that I used people like him to spur me on.

Thirteen years after leaving Craven Cottage, I returned to Fulham and was their top scorer in the 2004/05 season. I needed to play for someone who I liked and respected and that person was Chris Coleman, who was the manager at the time. The only time it was difficult was in the winter, because my family was still in Manchester. I would just sit alone in my apartment. I was enjoying playing and got another great goal against Liverpool which was voted Goal of the Season, but I wasn't happy with life.

Fulham had completely changed. Mohammed al Fayed's money had revolutionised the club and turned them into Premier League regulars. Crowds had risen from 6,000 to 24,000. Their old Craven Cottage ground on the banks of the River Thames in a wealthy suburb of West London has kept its character though and Fulham have thrived under Roy Hodgson, their manager. He inherited a side in danger of relegation and turned Fulham's fortunes around, creating a team spirit to take them on a run to a European final. He has been voted the Manager of the Year in England and it's a fantastic and wholly merited award.

Losing the final was harsh, but they had a great run to Hamburg and helped establish the credibility of the Europa League in its first season. I found some of the earlier rounds tedious, but Fulham helped ignite interest in the final stages because of their involvement against great teams such as Juventus. There were plenty of full stadiums and Uefa will be very happy with how it turned out. I'm sure the likes of Manchester City want to win the competition next season.

It is Fulham's brave involvement which will linger in the memory from this season's tournament though. That and the goals of Diego Forlan. Andrew Cole, a former Manchester United player, is the second all-time Premier League top scorer with 187 goals sports@thenational.ae