Despite spending most of the season denying that a rift between them existed, it was clear early on that Atlético manager Quique Sanchez Flores and star forward Diego Forlan aren’t exactly the best of friends.
The feud between the manager and striker finally boiled over Tuesday evening following Atleti’s defeat to Racing.
On the bus ride back to the airport, the two lashed out at each other and came close to exchanging blows over Quique’s derisive post-match comments about Forlan’s play.
Back in late February, following months of speculation about the nature of the coach’s relationship with the player, tempers ran hot after Quique took the Uruguayan out of our home match against Sevilla, replacing him with Diego Costa with just under 10 minutes left to play in a 2-2 game.
Days after, Spanish paper El País broke the news that there was a possible plot against Forlán by his teammates, the infamous “Not a single ball to ‘La Rubia’” campaign.
Quique was quick to dismiss the paper’s claims and told the press, “I’m tired of these situations and that every little thing that happens with Forlán gets talked about,” before finally acknowledging some bad blood between himself and the forward.
“[Forlán] and I are well aware of our issues and that we have to unite for the good of the group,” he had said.
The friction between the two took a turn for the worse however, days before our match against Osasuna.
Forlán had just returned from international duty with Uruguay, who had played friendlies in Estonia and Ireland. According to El Mundo , the 31-year-old told his manager he wasn’t feeling fit to play in Pamplona, but Quique included him in the match selection anyway.
Costa started the encounter in place of Forlán and tied the Uruguayan in goals scored in 2011 with a stunning hat trick. Meanwhile, Quique made Forlan warm up for most of the second half, only to leave him on the bench until the final whistle blew.
During the next-day’s training session, the two apparently had a bust-up.
El Mundo reports that members of the team and training staff were afraid things would get physical after one (presumably Forlan) was heard to have yelled, “I’m not a child!”, while the other (presumably Quique) responded, “I’m the boss here!”
From that point on, until Tuesday, Quique and Forlan had given each other the silent treatment, while Cachavacha’s name hasn’t featured in a starting XI since.
“It’s almost better that they haven’t spoken, because they will probably end up fighting each other,” an unnamed Atleti squad member had told El Mundo.
That confrontation had not been made public until Wednesday. Up until then, supporters and the media mostly attributed La Rubia’s benching to poor performance, but these recent revelations seem to suggest Quique’s line-up decisions may be partially based on a personal vendetta.
The player-coach feud reached its boiling point Tuesday evening, though there were some clues days before that a possible showdown was imminent.
Costa faced a one-game suspension and was unavailable for our trip to Santander, so naturally it was assumed that Forlan would finally get a shot to re-claim the role he had lost and start against Racing.
In the pre-game conference though, when Quique was asked by a reporter if he would indeed go with Cacha up top alongside Sergio Aguero as was expected, the tactician bluntly responded, “Forlan? We have other options.”
True to his word, Quique paired Kun with Reyes in the attack and for the seventh consecutive time, Forlan was left on the bench to start the game.
The two-time Pichichi winner came in a little after the second half kicked off, but failed to find the back of the net in our 2-1 loss to the Cantabrians.
When questioned by reporters about why he had opted to leave Forlan on the bench to begin the encounter, Quique showed little restraint.
“Forlán was given 35 minutes, 40 counting stoppage time, and you’ve seen his minutes,” he said after the game. “You [the media] are the ones that are supposed to criticise the players, not me. When the team was winning no one talked about his benching.”
AS claims the pair almost came to blows on the bus ride to the Santander airport when Forlán confronted his coach about those remarks.
Quique insisted his words were taken out of context, but that argument was obviously too hard to swallow given the scornful nature of the manager’s comments.
Atleti skipper Antonio Lopez was forced to separate both men, and on Wednesday morning, the left back came to Forlan’s defence, telling the press, “There’s no reason to single out anyone.”
A 45 minute team conference was held before Wednesday’s training session in which yet another heated verbal exchange took place between Quique and Forlan.
According to AS, teammates sided with the Uruguayan, echoing the sentiment expressed by their captain that there was no reason to call anyone out. Everyone assumed responsibility for the loss.
While it’s unclear exactly how costly this divisiveness has been to our season, one has to feel that it might be partially responsible for Forlan’s decline.
In the short term, the parties should check their egos and look to make amends, even if temporarily, so as not jeopardise our chances of securing a Europa League berth.
In the long term, it’s a practical certainty that Sanchez Flores will not be coming back for another year, while Forlan will be placed on the market come season’s end and is highly likely to leave, though he has recently suggested he wants to see out his contract with Atleti.
Do you think a new coach could bring back the best out of our World Cup Golden Ball-winning striker, or is it time to part ways with Forlan?