In this weeks edition of ‘Throwback Thursday’, I take a look back at Manchester United’s 2-1 win over arch rivals Liverpool at Anfield on this day 14-years ago. A South American striker netted both of United’s goals that day and although he won’t go down as a legend of the club, Diego Forlan will forever be a cult hero for his Merseyside heroics on the 1st December 2002.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were fifth going into the match against Liverpool on the Sunday, five points behind their opponents who were second and a whopping nine points behind leaders Arsenal although the Gunners had played and won (3-1 against Aston Villa) the day before. Forlan – who was a £6.9 million acquisition from Argentinian side Independiente the season previous – was given the nod up top alongside Ruud van Nistelrooy despite having scored just one league goal for the Reds during his 10 months at Old Trafford. The hosts went into the game full of confidence, having gone almost a year without tasting defeat in the league at home.
It was United who made the brighter start however that wasn’t that difficult given that the home side hadn’t found their feet in the opening half an hour. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had a goal ruled out for offside before testing the gloves of Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek with a rasping drive from range. Liverpool then started to grow into the game, Vladimir Smicer went close before Michael Owen looked set to open the scoring at the back post but for a superbly timed clearance from Gary Neville.
The half-time interval came and went and just like the first half, United came out the better of the two teams. But for a Jamie Carragher interception, van Nistelrooy would have been clean through on goal following a through ball from Ryan Giggs. A long punt up-field from United keeper Fabien Barthez looked to have been dealt with as Carragher calmly headed back to Dudek to comfortably gather. However what happened next was an error of epic proportions. The Polish keeper somehow allowed the ball to escape his grasp and trickle through his legs, gifting Forlan an opportunity to slot the ball into an empty net which he duly took. The Uruguayan wheeled away in jubilation, celebrating what was only his fourth goal for the club.
The Liverpool keeper was still visibly frustrated with himself when Forlan blasted a second in at the near post just minutes later. It sent the South American and the United fans alike into euphoria. Forlan had struggled in England up to this point but on a sunny Sunday afternoon in December 14 years ago, he etched his name in United folklore.
Liverpool captain Sami Hyypia halved the deficit with less than ten minutes remaining however Fergie’s men held on to put an end to four straight defeats in all competitions to their fierce rivals. When asked about Forlan’s performance after the game, Ferguson told reporters:
“Today his perseverance has been rewarded in a big way because the fans will never forget it.”
Too right. Forlan only managed 17 goals in just shy of 100 appearances for the Reds and although he enjoyed much greater success after he left Old Trafford, his name is still sung on the terraces today. “Diego, woah, Diego, woah; he came from Uruguay, he made the Scousers cry”. Forlan claims it is an honour that the United faithful still chant his name. In a column for The National last year, he wrote:
“My sister re-tweeted something which I saw last week.
“It was from a Manchester United fan who said they were practicing for their game at Liverpool this Sunday by singing about me in their game v Spurs.
“The song goes: ‘Diego, wooah, Diego, wooah; He came from Uruguay, he made the Scousers cry.’
“I’ll be honest; I get goose bumps every time I hear it. I can be in Brazil or Uruguay, Japan or Spain watching a United game on television and hear it.
“It is so flattering. I’m not Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes or another United legend, nor am I the only player to have scored at Anfield, so it feels a privilege to be remembered.”
Unfortunately it didn’t work out for Forlan in England but we hadn’t seen the best of him by the time he left for Spanish side Villarreal in 2004. He has over 250 career goals to his name and is still playing today at the ripe age of 37, for Indian Super League side Mumbai City.