Diego Forlan: Why the Uruguayan Will Step Up for Internacional in 2013
Uruguay forward Diego Forlan arrived in Brazil to much fanfare last season, with the Porto Alegre-based giants Internacional hopeful that the former European Golden Boot winner would fire them to a place in the 2013 Copa Libertadores.
That vision, though, failed to become a reality.
Forlan, who was released on a free by former side Inter Milan, found himself simply unable to hit the heights of his European career.
Five goals in 19 appearances later, the jury is still out on whether the striker will ever be able to recapture his former form.
Internacional now have a new manager in the shape of former Brazil head coach Dunga and are in earnest preparation for the recently commenced 2013 campaign. To achieve their aims, though, they will need their Uruguayan striker to be at the best of his abilities.
So, just how can Dunga get the best out of Diego Forlan?
Increased Fitness Levels
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Recently appointed Internacional manager Dunga was an unpopular figure as Brazil manager, despite success in both the Copa América and Confederations Cup during his tenure.
It was not so much his results that sat uneasily with the Brazilian public, but more his physical, counter-attacking style. It was a style that contrasted with romanticised expectations of the Seleção—with many expecting Brazil to always emulate the fluid brilliance of the 1982 World Cup team.
With Dunga now returning to Internacional, where he was idolised as a player, he has already set about implementing his philosophies upon his new side.
Recent signings Vitor Junior and Willians are both renowned for their energy and speed, while the first team will miss the opening weeks of the 2013 state championship campaign in order to work on their fitness levels.
For Forlan, the side's increased fitness can only help. While he may benefit from extra energy levels, it will be the speed of those around him that will bring the best out of the Uruguayan.
If his teammates are able to counter attack with speed and incision, Forlan certainly has the quality to pick out their runs or position himself to finish the chances they create.
He may lack speed in his advancing years, but his class remains.
Damião's Return to Form
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At the end of last season, Forlan was not the only Internacional forward drastically out of form. Indeed, only this past week, his club strike partner Leandro Damião was dropped from the Brazil squad due to his dip in performance.
While Forlan would once have been the side's target man, he must now operate as a second forward alongside the Brazilian youngster. Damião and Forlan, therefore, can be a great influence on each other's form.
With pace and energy being supplied from midfield, it should not be long before Damião returns to his consistent levels of the previous two years. He is simply too good to underperform for much longer.
At his best, Damião has proven himself to link play wonderfully. His size, awareness and technique make him an ideal focal point to the attack, and Forlan can use his experience to capitalise on his colleague's hard work.
The duo have a full preseason campaign to work on their partnership and, with the motivation to win back his Brazil place, Damião will no doubt come out firing.
If he does, Forlan has no excuse for failure.
State Championship Confidence Boost
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If Forlan is to return to his best, then he will need to believe in himself once more. On too many occasions last campaign, the Uruguayan looked as though all his confidence in his abilities had deserted him.
The Brazilian footballing calendar, though, offers some form of respite to those out of form in the shape of the state championship.
The state championships, with the possible exception of the more competitive São Paulo tournament, see Brazil's top sides pitted against teams of wildly differing standards from their local region. It is a time of year that offers some respite for those who need their egos massaged.
Rather than the giants of the Brasileirão, for the next three months Internacional will face the likes of Lajeadense, Pelotas and São Luiz in a schedule that is far from gruelling.
Goals will be there for the taking, and Forlan will have the chance to head into the league season full of confidence with his pride restored.
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For now, Forlan is still a key member of Uruguay's international side. However, with La Celeste struggling to qualify for Brazil 2014 and the striker very much out of form, questions are being asked about his continued selection over younger, in-form candidates.
Due to the presence of Forlan, as well as Liverpool's Luis Suarez, Serie A's top scorer Edinson Cavani is often forced to play away from his central striking position for his country.
As he continues to destroy Italian defences, the logic behind his non-selection as the Uruguay side's focal point becomes ever more questionable.
Put simply, given Uruguay's plentiful supply of attacking options, Forlan will need to up his game to retain his position in the national team. Continue to deceive, and he may well be watching the 2014 World Cup from home, assuming his country even qualify.
The pressure on manager Oscar Tavarez will only grow as their stuttering qualification campaign continues, and with that, so too will the pressure on Forlan.
If the striker needed any further incentive to work his way back to form, the threat to his World Cup place is surely enough.
Talent Will Always Shine Through
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This is far from the first time in his career that Forlan has been the target of intense criticism and speculation. After all, this is a player virtually written off during his time in England with Manchester United.
Those in high places at Old Trafford always insisted he would find success, and indeed, he achieved great success in subsequent spells with Villarreal and Atlético Madrid.
Forlan was never a player whose game was based upon searing pace—that in itself tells me his poor form is not related to physical decline. Slowing reactions or a lack of motivation, maybe, but there is still belief at Inter that he can return to former glories due to the reasons discussed.
His talent remains, and if Dunga can offer Forlan the conditions he needs to shine, we may well see the best of the Uruguayan once more. His excellent first touch, stunning finishes and awareness of those around him are not attributes that players "lose."
He may never rekindle his form of old and may, ultimately, drift onwards from Internacional as a failure. A player of his undoubted quality, though, should never be written off.
At 33, he is still a relative spring chicken compared to some who have starred in Brazil over recent years, and for that reason alone, it will be hardly surprising to see him star this season.