Luis Figo: ‘I had everything at Barcelona – moving to Real Madrid took its toll’ | Soccer

‘I was a guinea pig,” says football’s first galáctico, the trace of a grin creeping throughout his face. At his height Luis Figo was once the sector’s highest participant, its costliest too. Across two decades, he performed greater than 900 video games, earned 127 caps, scored greater than 150 objectives and received 8 league titles, a European Cup and the Ballon d’Or. He additionally took his nation to their first ultimate, wearing Portugal into a brand new generation. In truth, he carried all the recreation into a brand new generation.

There’s a case that the super-club age, trendy soccer, begins with Figo: a pioneer, a guinea pig. Cobaya is his phrase and his was once the switch that modified everything, his 10bn peseta (€60m) transfer from Barcelona to Madrid in 2000 like one thing from a mystery, continuously transferring, so astonishing, so dramatic and simply so large that it every now and then turns out to eclipse everything else. “I’d like more value given to my whole career than one episode that marks an age and altered the market, the philosophy of football,” he says, but there’s a sure pleasure too, a reason why he has at closing made up our minds to inform his tale in a Netflix documentary in regards to the transfer. “It was and is history.”

After all, if it was once so large, it’s also as a result of he was once. So right here he’s, sitting at a terrace in north-eastern Madrid, the town he hadn’t supposed to develop into his house, speaking in regards to the switch and an entire life within the recreation sooner than Madrid host Barcelona in Sunday’s clásico. About the upward push and fall of essentially the most bold venture in soccer. Why his country’s maximum painful night time was once in all probability his highest. And how shut he got here to becoming a member of Liverpool. Even his bid for the Fifa presidency. “That was an ‘experience’,” Figo says, grinning. “You could write a book about that.”

He may write loads of them, filled with intrigue in addition to inspiration. The doubt can be the place to get started. Ask for his highest moments and there’s a pfff and a pause. “Happily, there are so many; you can’t choose,” he says. And the worst? Losing the general of Euro 2004, in all probability? “No,” he replies impulsively. “We experienced something unimaginable, unrepeatable. I’ve never felt such consensus, support, happiness and joy around a national team.

“When I started with Portugal, we played not to lose. We went from that to turning up at tournaments as favourites, so although we didn’t win titles, we won notoriety, respect, status, helped following generations. Maybe football took something from us then but gave it back years later. Everyone expected us to be champions and then in 2016, against France in France, you win it without your best player. You see?”

Sort of. By then Figo had long gone, however that concept of development, legacy, is a routine theme, mirrored in his number of key moments being “doorways”: “Portugal winning the Under-20 World Cup in 1991, which allowed us to enter a professional world. The first time I left home, for Barcelona. The transfer to Madrid. Going to Inter. Every change there’s uncertainty but you always think it’s for the best.”

Uncertainty is one phrase, if every now and then insufficient. And, for the most productive? When Figo joined Madrid, he wasn’t so certain. It is 22 years since he stood at the Santiago Bernabéu keeping a No 10 blouse and dressed in the glance of a condemned guy, twenty years since he had a pig’s head thrown at him. The switch was once seismic, the fallout ordinary, the good fortune of the documentary – The Figo Affair – testomony to its have an effect on, the iconic fascination. It was once additionally one Figo hadn’t sought. “The person who decides if I’m going or not is me,” he says, however he admits that was once a choice conditioned through instances no longer of his making. Not welcomed, both.

Luis Figo, in Real Madrid white, turns away from a youthful Xavi Hernández in November 2002
Luis Figo, in Real Madrid white, turns clear of a younger Xavi Hernández in November 2002. Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images/Reuters/Alamy

In the documentary, Figo emerges virtually as a sufferer of an elaborate heist performed through the Madrid presidential candidate Florentino Pérez, his agent José Veiga and Paulo Futre, who was once brokering the switch. His future no longer in his arms, he’s confronted through a legally binding deal the more and more terrified Veiga had signed which integrated a €30m penalty clause if damaged. “Only I could save them, by going to Madrid,” he says, a undeniable honour in his refusal to relinquish accountability and blame others. At instances, he says, he has paid for no longer realizing how to say no. Why no longer inform Veiga to get misplaced? It was once in any case his mess, no longer yours.

“Yeah, I know,” Figo says. “But it was the only way to fix it. I was very calm about my own position although at the same time I had a [duty of] care for those working with me. But the decision, I take. I’m the one responsible for it, for my actions. The decision to pull them from that responsibility is mine alone. And a year later I stop working with my agent. Because of some situations that emerged. I said: ‘OK, I’ll take responsibility again. From now on, you have your life, I have mine.’”

Barcelona will game the owl emblem of Drake’s OVO Sound label on their jerseys as an alternative of major sponsors Spotify after they tackle Real Madrid on Sunday to mark the Canadian rapper surpassing 50 billion streams at the track platform. Barcelona, who had been some of the closing primary golf equipment with no blouse sponsor, stated the transfer was once a part of their efforts to deliver soccer and track in combination. Four-times Grammy award winner Drake posted a picture of the limited-edition jersey on Instagram to his greater than 120 million fans. Barça lead La Liga on purpose distinction forward of Real Madrid. Reuters

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Drake’s emblem to change Spotify on Barça shirts in clásico


Barcelona will game the owl emblem of Drake’s OVO Sound label on their jerseys as an alternative of major sponsors Spotify after they tackle Real Madrid on Sunday to mark the Canadian rapper surpassing 50 billion streams at the track platform. Barcelona, who had been some of the closing primary golf equipment with no blouse sponsor, stated the transfer was once a part of their efforts to deliver soccer and track in combination. Four-times Grammy award winner Drake posted a picture of the limited-edition jersey on Instagram to his greater than 120 million fans. Barça lead La Liga on purpose distinction forward of Real Madrid. Reuters

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Figo’s lifestyles modified. Much was once fabricated from what he won, particularly financially – and he talks in regards to the “unhappy” want to be egocentric in a global the place “if you don’t have a status you’re a bargaining chip, where if you don’t perform, it’s finished” – however whilst he doesn’t linger, there was once a lot misplaced. A house. A long run. “Friends that I no longer …”

He stops. “Maybe it was good because I thought they were friends and they weren’t. You realise. When it happened, they no longer want to appear with you because of how it looks [in Barcelona].” There’s a sigh. “It’s complicated, but I understand. Well, I don’t understand but I don’t care. In the end, I have a very strong concept of friendship, so it surprises you; you suffer because you have a relationship with people you think are genuine and it doesn’t turn out that way.

“I had everything in Barcelona, but you think: ‘It’s not like I’m going to a second-rate club.’ If it hadn’t been Madrid, maybe I wouldn’t have gone. It’s a challenge, a decision based on feeling valued, convincing me I was going to be an extremely important piece. It could have been a cagada, a cock-up, but it wasn’t, thank God.

“These days, there’s more protection. It felt like I was doing a press conference every day. That takes its toll. We were starting to tour, a new idea, there was the rivalry, the pressure, the price.” The hatred too. “Not everyone likes God, how is everyone going to like me?” he says, however the photos of his go back to the Camp Nou continues to be stunning. “My only concern was if something happened physically, some madman. But go and play football? Nah! In football there’s no reason to be scared.”

Luis Figo is marked by Ashley Cole and Owen Hargreaves during Portugal’s match against England at the 2006 World Cup.
Luis Figo is marked through Ashley Cole and Owen Hargreaves all through Portugal’s fit in opposition to England at the 2006 World Cup. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

There’s that toughness: at instances Figo can seem impenetrable. “That’s my personality. I coped with pressure; it kept me alert. I’ve always had that competitiveness, that ‘blood’: you want to win, win, win.” By the top of the yr Madrid had been champions, Figo the league’s remarkable participant. Soon he was once joined through Zinedine Zidane, then Ronaldo, then David Beckham. Football was once getting into a brand new measurement and he had began it. Did he really feel particular, accountable?

“For Pérez winning the elections,” he says. “Maybe I was the pioneer of a new project, but not the club. There was an expectation. I knew the president’s ideas. At that stage we talked a lot. I was his promise, his ‘insignia’. I didn’t always know who was coming but I knew the plan.”

The guy having to make sense of all of it was once Vicente Del Bosque, who Figo calls “one of the best people and coaches I’ve encountered. Managing 25 egos is the hardest thing in the world. It’s not about imposing, all ‘argh, argh’, like a child, he understood. There were egos, there are always egos, but there were great professionals who wanted to compete, win, who respected each other’s space. If everyone’s like, ‘No, I’m the world’s best, you run’, it’s chaos. We had a good atmosphere.”

Something although was once transferring, a whole tradition, Madrid in uncharted territory. Del Bosque was once sacked and good fortune abandoned them. “In my opinion, a new world began around football: image, marketing, publicity, blah, blah, blah,” Figo says. “Maybe the professional part, the football, was sometimes overlooked for other elements that were growing. Because we were pioneers, maybe decisions were taken out of sync with the football.”

Age 32, slipping from the group, Liverpool got here. “I would have liked to go,” Figo admits. “We talked a lot. One week they say, ‘No, wait, we can’t do it just now’ and then they sign a player. Then, ‘Wait a few more days, we need to sort this first’ and they sign another. I think: ‘Bloody hell, are you messing with me, or what?’ Inter appear, I go to Milan, meet [the club president Massimo] Moratti and take the decision. I loved Inter, it was exactly what I needed.”

A pig’s head on the Barcelona pitch when Luis Figo returned with Real Madrid
Barcelona enthusiasts threw a pig’s head at the pitch when Luis Figo returned with Real Madrid. Photograph: AS

Four consecutive titles later, time was once up. Why did training no longer name? Because of the ones egos? Figo cracks up. “Yes. because I know players too well! I would like to try it, you know. I don’t know if I would have the ability. My challenge would be putting my footballing ideas into practice, communicating, reaching people. I don’t have the badge. The course is like studying medicine: six years. Come on, madness.

“And I’ve always been drawn more to the executive side, fascinated by producing, being an entrepreneur. I don’t sit still. I like people with playing experience being in the game – but only if they have the ability. I’m totally against ‘names’.”

Which is helping give an explanation for Figo working for Fifa president in 2015. “It’s a long story,” he grins. “Uefa proposed becoming a candidate. I could see [Fifa] was full of corruption, a mafia. In the European confederation, we felt we needed to move, even if there wasn’t really a chance – to at least make a stand, take a position.

“They threw me into the fire a bit because there were already two candidates. One from the Uefa executive committee, [Michael] van Praag. The other was Prince Ali [bin Hussein], who was the first to stand and had [the Uefa president Michel] Platini’s support. Uefa suggested a third: me. ‘OK.’ I was like their excuse not to choose between them, although their hands were tied. I built my candidacy, saw how things work, learned what it’s like inside – you could do a documentary – and a week before the elections they call from Zurich, inviting me to a meeting to see which candidate would continue [with Uefa backing].

“Everyone met. ‘Right, who thinks they should continue?’ And of course ‘me,’ ‘me’, ‘me’. We didn’t reach any agreement. After, my federation calls. They, and Uefa, want me to step aside. In theory, they were my backers.”

Figo taunts. “I say: ‘I’m not going.’ I. Won’t. Step. Back. I don’t care if I have one, two, three, four, five, or zero votes. But without the support of those who had asked me to stand in the first place, I dropped out. And thank God – maybe it’s destiny – because the following week, the FBI raids the Fifa congress, puts I don’t know how many in jail, they cancel the elections. A scandal. And I think: ‘Pff, good job.’”

So now what? Could he have some other pass? “I want to keep working with Uefa but maybe more actively, with greater responsibility. If I have the right support, real support, and see I can help, do something worthwhile, I think I have the capacity to do good for football. If it’s interesting and I can be useful, I won’t say no. But I don’t know; I don’t make plans. I’ve never programmed my life. It’s destiny. Things happen, and then you decide.”

The Figo Affair: The Transfer that Changed Football is streaming on Netflix.

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