Ashutosh Mehta - Diego Forlan connected with players on a personal level

Mumbai City FC did not start off on the right foot in the Indian Super League (ISL). The Islanders garnered just 16 points in their first and second season in the tournament. The arrival of Uruguayan superstar Diego Forlan caused a reversal in fortune in the 2016 season as Mumbai went on to top the table at the end of the league phase.

Alexandre Guimaraes’ men went down to eventual champions ATK in the closely-fought two-legged play-off tie but a tremendous show throughout the season earned them the deserved plaudits for displaying great consistency.

2010 World Cup Golden Ball winner Forlan played a key role in the rise of the island side. On the field, he scored five goals, including a hat-trick against Kerala Blasters. Off the field, he worked closely with the young Indian players, contributing heavily to their development.

Ashutosh Mehta, I-League winner with Mohun Bagan this season was part of the Mumbai side that made the play-off that season. The right-back spoke to Goal about how the Uruguayan forward connected with the players at a personal level and guided them.

Ashutosh Mehta Mumbai City FC FC Goa ISL season 2

“I was honoured to share the dressing room with Forlan. He has played football at the highest level. I learnt a lot from him on and off the pitch. He’s not just a great player but also an amazing person and I’m still in touch with him,” he said.

Like any top player, Forlan’s influence transcended the pitch and went beyond goals and assists. Mumbai accumulated seven points more than they did the previous season in order to finish on top in 2016 and the Uruguayan was key in making it possible.

The right-back spoke about how Forlan led by example and helped carry the team forward with his experience and strong mentality.

“He was a character and a leader in the dressing room. He used to guide Indian players and foreigners. We used to look up to him and learn new things. It was an amazing time. His experience and mentality helped Mumbai get to the play-offs that season, Ashutosh recalled.

The Uruguayan enjoyed an envious that saw him win the Premier League with Manchester United, the Europa League with Atletico Madrid and the Copa America for his nation in 2011. He also won the European Golden Shoe in 2004-05 and 2008-09, 2010 World Cup Golden Boot and the Pichichi Trophy in 2004-05 and 2008-09.

Diego Forlan Mumbai City FC Delhi Dynamos FC ISL season 3 2016

But talk to Forlan about his career and he is bound to bring up his love for scoring against Barcelona. In his debut season with Viallrreal, the forward scored five goals in two games against the Catalan side. He scored a brace in the Yellow Submarines’ 3-0 win over Barcelona and a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw.

“He told me that the best time he had in Spain was with Villarreal and he loved scoring goals against Barcelona,” Ashutosh reminisced.

After leaving Mumbai in 2016, Forlan spent a year with Hong Kong side Kitchee before retiring from professional football.

Elsewhere, Mehta went on to win the I-League twice. He was part of the Aizawl FC side that scripted history in 2017 by becoming the first team from North-East India to win the league. After a season each with ATK and FC Pune City, the 29-year-old swapped kits for Mohun Bagan ahead of the 2019-20 season.