Former Manchester Utd striker Diego Forlan’s Irish roots explored
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Former Manchester Utd striker Diego Forlan’s Irish roots explored

DIEGO FORLAN is best remembered by UK and Irish football fans for his disastrous stint at Manchester United.

The Uruguayan went eight months and 27 games without a goal for the Red Devils and while he is fondly remembered for a match-winning double against Liverpool, his time at Old Trafford was largely disappointing.

But Forlan is fondly remembered elsewhere, most notably at Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, where he won multiple individual honours as both Spain’s and Europe’s top scorer on two separate occasions.

The Uruguayan also shone on the biggest stage of all, the World Cup, taking home the FIFA Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player in 2010.

A year later he was at it again, firing Uruguay to victory in the Copa America, scoring in the final and finishing as the tournament’s joint top scorer.

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Manchester United fans might remember the bad times, but fans elsewhere may see things a little differently.

What almost all will forget, however, is that Forlan could have played for the Republic of Ireland.

Forlan is a direct descendant of the Irish settlers who not only founded the country’s navy in the 1800s but expanded the country’s now sizeable agricultural industry.

Ireland’s Great Famine of the 1840s led to a surge in the number of Irish settlers and farmers arriving in South America from Ireland in search of fertile land.

Touching down in the Port of Montevideo around 1836, sheep farmers from as far as County Wexford arrived, sparking a boom in sheep-farming and wood production.

Other settlers from Westmeath and Longford followed in the wake of famine-led hardship in Ireland, eager to find a new life and some solace from the pains of home.

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Ranchers, landowners and Christian missionaries came too, bringing affluence and religious re-education, among other things, with them.

Today, an estimated 120,000 Irish Uruguayan’s live in the country with the majority based around the capital of Montevideo.

Born and raised in Montevideo, Forlan is one of two world-famous Irish Uruguayans to make a name for themselves in the world of football.

The other, Fabian O’Neill, starred for Cagliari and Juventus in the mid-90s heyday of Italian football, cutting a swathe through Serie A defences as an attacking midfielder of some repute.

Forlan’s Irish Latin-American roots stemmed from his dad, Pablo Forlan, and his side of the family. An avid Christian and married father-of-three, Forlan only made his debut for Uruguay in 2002, around the same time he was underwhelming for Manchester United.

It could have been so different. A call from Mick McCarthy a couple of years earlier might have seen him lining up alongside Robbie Keane and Damien Duff for Ireland.

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World Cup glory could have been ours.

Then again, Forlan’s distant Irish links might have seen him fall foul of the kind of rules that stopped Tim Cahill from playing for the Green Army.

Then again, Tony Cascarino managed it despite having no Irish heritage whatsoever.

Forlan retires leaving behind a career full of happy memories. It’s just a shame none of them involved Manchester United or Ireland for that matter.