ISL 2017/18: How Diego Forlan helped FC Pune City's Emiliano Alfaro improve as a football player
They may have taken their time, but FC Pune City have certainly made their mark in the ongoing ISL season, playing an exciting brand of football.
After Bengaluru FC, it was Pune that cemented a spot in the semifinals, and although they ended up in the fourth spot on the league table, the Stallions have shown that they can pose a serious threat to the opposition.
Central to this attacking threat is the South American duo of Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro. The two have scored a total of 17 goals and nine assists between them, and have been a menace to the opposition defenders.
“Marcelinho is fantastic,” said Alfaro, when asked about his strike partner at the Balewadi Stadium. “We try to do different things for the team and for each other.
“The most important thing is that we try to be not selfish. When we have a teammate in a better position, we try to pass it to him, and this is how we both play the game,” he said.
Pune and Guwahati: A tale of two cities
When Pune started off the season, it was a bit of a déjà vu for Alfaro with regards to playing football in India. Last season, he had played for NorthEast United FC, a club that has never made it to the top four spots in the league.
It was a similar case at FC Pune City when he penned a deal with the Stalions at the start of the season. However, although they got that monkey off their back with their qualification this season, Alfaro has spotted a marked difference in the way NorthEast approaches its football, as compared to Pune.
“In the northeast, everybody is crazy about football. The stadiums were always full last season. It's not been like that this year, but the fans there love the game,” said Alfaro.
“It's a bit different in Pune. It's a bigger city (than Guwahati). But the fans are very close to the team,” he said.
When asked about the difference between the two clubs, Alfaro explained that there was more emphasis on making the top four spots from the Pune management.
“Right from the president to the committee, everyone was talking about that. Even before I signed my contract, they told me the importance of making the top four,” he said. “The objective was same at NorthEast, but maybe it meant more to the fans.”
Where Alfaro’s loyalties lie
Having played in Uruguay, Argentina, Italy, the UAE and Thailand, Alfaro is indeed a well-travelled footballer. However, when it comes to his homeland, his loyalties lie with one club and one club alone – Liverpool FC Montevideo.
“I got my first professional contract from Liverpool when I was 16. Since then, I made up my mind that I would never play for any other club in Uruguay,” said Alfaro.
For Alfaro, who had been playing the beautiful game since the age of three, it was a no-brainer when Liverpool came knocking, but a player of his talent could never really stay in South America. Eventually, he made the move to the Serie A, where he joined Lazio in the Italian capital.
“The move to Lazio was a good challenge for me, I learnt many things there. I had already played in Uruguay, but it was very different in Europe,” he said.
Alfaro’s performances earned him call-ups to the national teams across various levels. Having played for Uruguay in the u-17 level and in the u-20 World Cup, Alfaro has had the chance to share the dressing room with some of world football’s biggest stars from a very young age.
The likes of Barcelona and PSG strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani have all shared the dressing room with Alfaro, who has noticed something “special” in them since the early days.
“Even at the age of 18, when we saw them (Cavani and Suarez), you could see that they would become fantastic players,” said Alfaro. “Not only did they have tremendous talent, but they are also great human beings. Another thing that they had was the hunger to improve every day.”
The moment of glory and the advice from Diego Forlan
He may have played with some of the biggest names in the world of football, but Alfaro’s proudest moment came in 2011 when he got his senior international debut for Uruguay.
What made the occasion doubly special? It was against Italy.
Alfaro’s grandparents are Italian, something that made the occasion rather special for the Lazio player.
Despite this connection though, Alfaro considers himself to be a true-blue Uruguayan.
“It was one of the best moments of my career, to play for my country. It was special to play my debut against Italy,” he said. “My grandparents are from Italy, but I’ve been born and brought up in Uruguay, all my family is there. So by flesh, blood, heart, whatever you call it, I’m an Uruguayan.”
Alfaro considers himself rather lucky to have met, and played alongside his idol, former Manchester United and Atletico Madrid great Diego Forlan.
“I tried to learn many things from him, and I did. He is my idol. He was one of the first players in many, many years to put Uruguay on the world footballing map,” he said.
“Uruguay is a small country, but many people around the world know of our country because Forlan played football,” explained Alfaro. “He is a fantastic professional, and a great ambassador for football.”
In fact, Alfaro, who was finding it difficult to find game time in Italy, got some sound advice from his idol Forlan, something that he believes helped him further his career.
“When I was playing in Italy, I had a few offers to go and play in other leagues. I asked him what I should do,” said Alfaro. “He told me, ‘You have to keep playing. Even if you have to go one step down to become a better player, you have to do it.’
“Apart from that also he gave me a lot of advice on life, and many other things, which I still follow till date,” he said.
His struggles in Italy may have been a thing of the past, but Alfaro has certainly become a huge success in India, where he is now looking to lead his side in the semifinal against Bengaluru FC on Wednesday.
While on paper, his side seems to be the weakest of the semifinalists (they finished fourth), the target, for Alfaro remains the same – “We want to win the trophy!”