Forlán: "I nearly joined Athletic, I'm as Basque as anyone there"
The former Manchester United, Villarreal and Atlético striker revealed he nearly wound up at San Mamés through his Basque grandmother.
Former Manchester United, Villarreal and Atlético Madrid striker Diego Forlán has revealed that he almost joined Athletic Bilbao – the side against whom he scored more goals than any other during his career in the Spanish top flight.
Forlán won the European Golden Boot as the continent’s top scorer twice, once with the Yellow Submarine and again at the Calderón, chalking up 128 in 240 games in Primera and many of those goals came against a club he could have signed for on the strength of his Basque grandmother. In total, the Uruguayan hit 12 in 14 games against Athletic, his preferred victim in LaLiga.
“I would have loved to [sign for Athletic],” Forlán said on Spanish radio after picking up a prize at the annual AS Awards gala in Madrid. “We were close and we were pushing for it. My grandmother was born in San Sebastián and when she was 15 or 16 she had to emigrate to Uruguay. I’ve got more Basque blood in me than many players there now. We spoke to [then-Athletic sporting director Andoni] Zubizarreta. I was at United at the time and they played very good football but I needed to play more games. If United played 60 games, I’d be involved in 30 and I needed more. I said to my brother: ‘Going to another club who play well but do so more in the air isn’t going to help me and could work out worse.’ We started to look around in Spanish football and I thought: ‘Athletic could work for me, I could have a chance there’.”
Forlán's golden Villarreal and Atlético career
Forlán ended up joining Villarreal from United in 2004 and won the Golden Boot in his first season (shared with Thierry Henry). After three years at El Madrigal, the Uruguay forward moved to Atlético and repeated the trick in 2008-09 (shared with Thomas Müller, Wesley Sneijder and David Villa) while also picking up a Europa League winners medal the following season.
But it was against Athletic, inevitably, that he always found the net. “The most annoying thing is that I got tired of scoring against Athletic. They kept asking me to leave my boots or my shirt there,” Forlán added with a chuckle.