Forlan: Luis Suarez doesn't owe Uruguay after World Cup

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay -- Diego Forlan takes a sip of mate from a thin metal straw and thinks about his answer. Raindrops slide down the windows of the training ground at his current club Penarol, 35 kilometres from the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo. ESPN FC have asked him to recall the greatest moments of a stellar career in professional football and that's why he's pausing.

The 37-year-old striker is still playing, back at the club he supported as a boy before moving abroad to play for Independiente (Argentina), Manchester United (England), Villarreal and Atletico Madrid (Spain), Inter Milan (Italy), Internacionale (Brazil), Cerezo Osaka (Japan) and now Penarol.

Along the way, he played more games (112) scored more goals (36) than any player in the history of Uruguay's national team, the scoring record since surpassed by his close friend Luis Suarez.

He retired from international football in 2015, but now watches Uruguay "like a fan" and is looking forward to Copa America, a competition which eventually elicits the answer to the question about his greatest career moment.

"I've enjoyed many great moments in football," he explains. "Winning the Premier League and FA Cup with United. Winning the Europa League with Atletico, the Copa America. Being the top scorer and player of the tournament in the 2010 World Cup finals. But, if I had to pick one, I'd say winning the 2011 Copa America win because it meant that three generations of our family had won the competition."

Forlan's father was a star with Penarol. His grandfather was also a professional footballer and in 2011 the family became the first in the world to have three Copa America winners from three different generations. So it's no surprise that he's looking forward to the centenario tournament in the United States.

What are Uruguay's chances in the Copa America?

Really good. It's a national team who like to play against the odds. We're used to being the underdogs, we're a country of three million and almost everyone is a giant compared to us. There are some American cities with a bigger population than our entire country. There are countries with access to more money and more players, but we use that as a strength and motivation. There's great unity in our national team -- there has to be.

These aren't just words. No country has more Copa America trophies than Uruguay. We have four in my family alone, spanning three generations. The Uruguay team are in a good place at the moment. They're playing well, they are convincing in World Cup qualification for 2018 and are currently top of the group. They -- or should I say "we" -- have beaten Colombia and Chile and drawn away with Brazil.

We have some great players and a great team spirit. The players have played together for many years under the same coach. That gives us an advantage.

The tournament is going to be a good yardstick for us because as well as the usual Copa America entrants, there will be strong countries like Mexico and the United States. I'm looking forward to it, but Uruguay have to be careful. We're not used to people expecting us to do well. We prefer to have everyone against us, but we have to prove that we can play when we're not an underdog.

Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godin ... there are world class players in the team.

There are more than the ones you've mentioned. Jose Maria Gimenez is only 20 and is already a top defender with my former club Atletico Madrid. He's been a regular with the national team for three years. He defends so well, he scores goals.

Fernando Muslera is a really top goalkeeper, who is solid and consistent. He's also an important part of the team. There's a very strong spine. It's a good time for Uruguayan football.

Are there any weaknesses?

Injuries are the biggest threat. We don't have the same pool of players as other countries. Martin Caceres, who plays at Juventus, has had injuries. We miss him. He's versatile and can play across the defence.

Only injuries?

Well, historically we've not kept the ball like Spain or Italy do, or Brazil and Argentina. We have very good players, but we've not had the mentality to keep the ball. With Uruguay, we tend to attack or defend. We don't retain the ball so that we can create the space. We attack. And we're very good at counter-attacking. That's just our style, but I've seen the team keeping more possession recently, so maybe that's changing.

What it's like to play in the tournament and win it. Harder than the World Cup?

They're both hard. This Copa America will be played like a World Cup, with more countries and more games. Normally, it's a 12-team competition. All the South American teams are usually very strong and you could have giants in the same group, Brazil and Argentina together. You may have five of the best 10 teams in the world. Levels are high and the level of the other teams has increased a lot in the last ten years; they all have players in the top leagues in Europe. Ecuador might have players in Spain who are used to playing against Lionel Messi twice a season. They're no longer scared of him, he's no longer a ghost.

They also learn good habits. Keylor Navas is at Real Madrid. He'll go back to his Costa Rica team and his experience will only help them.

Because we meet so often, the rivalries are stronger. We play Chile, for example, frequently. We meet more often than say England and Germany.

Was it difficult watching Copa America as a fan last year?

It wasn't easy watching us lose to Chile and not being able to do anything about it, but I tried to be calm. The time difference was awkward because I was in Japan playing in Osaka, but I still managed to watch every game.

I was excited because I know the players and the coach. I stayed in the Whatsapp group of the players, too, so I could see everything that was going on. I didn't offer my opinions to them. I don't think that's right when they're playing and doing their best. I just read their messages and laughed at the things they could never say publicly.

Who are Uruguay's biggest rivals?

Argentina. Easily. Then Brazil. We're rivals with the big ones who we live in between.

Luis Suarez has enjoyed another spectacular season. Does he owe Uruguay after the incident in the last World Cup?

No, he doesn't owe us anything. We're thankful for his talents and commitment to the national team. He's in a good moment and he has another opportunity to do well for his country. He's doing really great at Barcelona, playing alongside the best player in the world, Messi. That makes it easier to play when you are surrounded by the best, but Luis is one of them. He was the top scorer in Spain last season, the first to win the Pichichi apart from Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi since I won it in 2009.

How is your relationship with Suarez?

Strong. I speak to him frequently. I was always close to him when we played in the national team. I saw him go from being a 17-year-old to being my partner on the pitch. He's aguerrido -- a warrior. From the first time I saw him as a youth player to now, he's had that fighter spirit. He would ask me advice and ask me about the teams I played for in Europe. He'd ask me about goals I'd scored and players I'd played with at United, Villarreal or Atletico. Now I'm the one asking him what it's like to play with Messi and Neymar!

Luis has improved as a player. His timing is better now, his confidence is up. He has a different quality from Messi and Neymar. Fans love him because he's a strikers' striker who scores a lot of goals.

Xavi described Suarez as Picaro -- a fighter

That's a good word. But I think every South American footballer has a bit of that in him. Most of them come from the street, life is tough and they have to fight for things to get out of that environment by playing football.

When you start out as a player in Uruguay it's difficult. The quality of the pitches, the balls, the kits -- they're not consistent, there's not enough of them. It's hard. The weather is cold in winter, the travel is hard. Young players in other countries, even in South America, have it easier. They have better kits and better pitches. They get paid too.

When I arrived in Argentina I couldn't believe the difference, the quality of the kits. All I had to do was play football and get paid for it!

Cavani. Is it time he left PSG?

If he's not playing regularly, then yes. He's a good player who scores consistently, he should be playing regularly. Maybe Zlatan Ibrahimovic going will change things for him, but Cavani is a top player. He has all the attributes. He scores, he's quick, he shoots with both feet, he's good in the air. Maybe he'd be good in England.

Is Godin the best central defender in the world?

It's hard to say best for sure, but he's one of the best and he's been at a very high level for a long time now. He defends really well, he's quick and he scores important goals, usually from set-pieces. He scores for Uruguay too.

I remember him coming to Atletico when I was there. I tried to help him settle. One day, we decided to have a BBQ. We went to the shop and bought everything we needed. It was a beautiful sunny day. By the time we started the BBQ it was raining heavily...

What are your impressions of another of your former clubs, Manchester United?

Manchester City and Chelsea have become powers since I left. They have money to buy the best players, which they didn't have when I played. So that has made a big difference.

United are still a hugely attractive club, but they're not as dominant in the transfer market as they were. They're not in the Champions League either.

I still watch every United game on television. It has been difficult in the last few years, but I enjoyed my time in England and still have a great affection for United. They're the biggest club in the world.

You were popular among teammates in Manchester -- and with fans too. Tell us a funny story about your time at United.

We were on a preseason in Portland, Oregon, in the 2003. There was a tennis court on the site, the place for Nike elite athletes.

David Gill, the former United chairman, was playing tennis against another United director. I asked him for the racquets when they'd finished and Ruud van Nistelrooy asked to play me. He used to play a little bit of tennis.

All the team started to gather to watch us; they'd just finished training. Sir Alex Ferguson also came to watch. I don't think all of them knew that I used to play tennis at a good level as a junior.

As an adult, I used to play with Marat Safin and Juan Carlos Ferrero, who were both world No.1 in their career. They could easily beat me, but I was good enough to hit the balls back properly to them as they warmed up.

So it was me against Ruud, who didn't know that I wasn't a beginner. He was surprised when I started serving. Everyone was watching on the side and shouting. Roy Keane, Seba Veron, the gaffer. Suddenly there was an atmosphere. Ruud was really determined and the game was close. I felt the pressure to win because I'd played at a good level. I was not the underdog -- I was not Uruguay any more! I won in the end and that was expected, so nobody really said anything.

Sir Alex Ferguson tells a slightly different story in one of his books. He says that he knew I played tennis well and nobody else did and that he bet money on me. That's a better story, but some of the lads definitely knew.

Explain the miss against Juventus:

It was in New York on a preseason with United. There was a mistake between the keeper and a defender. I jumped because a defender tried to kick me and then came through with the goal open in front of me. The ball didn't move quickly and bounced a little bit. Instead of hitting it with my feet, I hit the ball with the ankle. Unbelievable. I didn't sleep that night, but we travelled to Philadelphia the next day where we played Barcelona. I scored two goals...

Favourite United goal?

A volley against Glasgow Rangers in the Champions League. I was on a good run and loved that goal. I scored some other great goals at United. The last minute winning goal against Chelsea or my first goal, an equaliser against Aston Villa when I took my shirt off. Or when I scored a winner against Southampton and couldn't get my shirt back on. And United fans like to remind me of the two I got at Anfield. They still sing that song, which it fantastic. I'm going to go with them to Anfield one day and stand with them.

How do you look back at your time at United?

Good. I scored important goals and won titles. I wanted to play more and at times I was frustrated.

People were good to me at United. Other players from South America like Kleberson found it far harder to settle as they didn't speak English. They were allowed to go back to South America for holidays. I wasn't!

I arrived as a young player in England at a club full of top players. Had I gone back there as a mature player I would have done much better, but I was a better player for my time in England.

Favourite ground to play in?

Old Trafford. I love that stadium, with the red stands which go up and up. Camp Nou is nice, the Bernabeu is better, but I prefer Old Trafford. It's a big pitch, the stands are closer to it. And it's full for every game.

Toughest opponent?

Fabio Cannavaro, who was with Real Madrid when I played against him several times. He was the best player in the world in 2006. He wasn't tall, but very quick and strong. He always knew his opponents well, as if he'd researched them. When the ball came from the side, he was always touching and pushing me. He didn't give me space to start running. He wasn't dirty, he didn't kick, he just wouldn't let you run freely. He interrupted my flow for 90 minutes. Not many players managed it, but he suffocated my style in a fair way.

Biggest regret?

None. Things happen for a reason.