Luis Figo: the Lisbon Magician

The summer of 2000 brought the world of football to its knees in astonishment, as Luis Figo transferred from Catalan Giants FC Barcelona, to eternal rivals Real Madrid, for a world-record fee of £37 million. Barcelona’s devoted supporters were left with a bowl full to the top with anger and irritation. This anger was for all to see, as Figo’s second return to the Camp Nou as one of the Galactico’s resulted in a disgusting pig head launched towards him. This remarkably unusual occurrence however never overshadowed Figo’s footballing ability.

Almost everyone associated with Portuguese football, even European football as a matter of fact will have some form of respect for Luis Figo and his mesmerising skill.

A gem of Portuguese football, Luis Figo was a product of the famous Sporting Lisbon youth academy, which has more recently produced the like of Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho, Nani and William Carvalho. Figo gained recognition through his outstanding talent as a teenager, winning various youth international competitions with Portugal, most notably the World Youth Cup success of 1991. Figo’s drastic rise meant a host of clubs from across Europe came calling, desperate for the winger’s signature.

This meant Serie A sides Parma and Juventus were at war, both fighting to sign Lisbon’s magician. With both clubs eventually complaining to FIFA, Figo was subsequently banned from signing for any Italian club for two years. Barcelona pounced on the opportunity, and signed Figo for a bargain fee of just £1.5 million

Figo was a vital cog in Barcelona’s success through the mid to late 1990s. Under former England manager Bobby Robson and Dutchman Louis van Gaal, Figo established himself as one of the games finest attacking midfielders, with his eye for goal improving drastically, as well as his overall match contribution. While at Barcelona, Figo had become the complete attacking outlet, assisting Barcelona to a collection of Silverware, firstly winning the Spanish Cup, Cup-Winners’ Cup and the European Super cup all in 1997. Spanish League successes in 1998 and 1999 were the ultimate glory during Figo’s spell with the Catalan giants.

Figo’s heroics led him to being named captain of FC Barcelona. By this time, Barca’s number seven was also a star player for the Portugal first team. This specific Portugal side was known as the Golden generation, with other stars including striker Joao Pinto as well as talented Playmaker Rui Costa at their disposal. Figo played a starring role in Portugal’s Euro 1996 campaign, which however ultimately ended in defeat to the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals.

Furthermore, Figo’s success with FC Barcelona sparked interest from none other than Los Blancos, more commonly known as Real Madrid. Powered by an astronomical transfer budget, Madrid were prepared to pay an enormous fee for the right-winger. Figo couldn’t resist the temptation, and Barcelona eventually accepted a world-record fee of £37 million in the summer of 2000.

Luis Figo thus became the first of the so called Galacticos signings, players that were signed for large sums of money in order to achieve European and worldwide domination. In his first season with the mighty Real Madrid, Figo won the FIFA world player of the year, and European Footballer of the year awards. Even with Figo being seen as public enemy number one in the eyes of Barca faithful, the right decision was arguably made. During his time with Real, Figo won the UEFA Champions League, La Liga, as well as playing alongside some of footballs greatest, with French midfield duo Zinedine Zidane, and Claude Makelele along with Ronaldo only a few examples.

International responsibility once again came calling, with Figo now captain of the national side. Euro 2000 was a success for Figo on a personal note, gaining praise for his stunning performances, most notably against England, in which he scored a spectacular long-range effort.

The FIFA 2002 World Cup proved to be a complete contrast, as Portugal were knocked out in the group stage, leaving their ‘golden generation’ somewhat speechless. Portugal was to host the 2004 European Championships, and Figo once again was Portugal’s talisman. This time however an array of new young talent were introduced, including Manchester United’s ever improving winger Cristiano Ronaldo and Benfica talent Simao Sabrosa excited fans with their pace and trickery on either side of the flanks. Portugal, managed by World Cup Winner Luiz Filipe Scolari, reached the final. Defeat again however was the outcome Portugal were to endure, as the defensive minded Greece secured a surprise 1-0 victory.

Internazionale were the last club in which Luis Figo enlightened fans before retiring in 2009. In this time, Figo helped the blue half of Milan secure an array of Serie A titles and even though increasing in age, Figo was still able to dazzle the spectators with his skilful wing-play. During his years with Internazionale, Figo formed an impressive midfield quartet with the technically gifted Dejan Stankovic, Esteban Cambiasso, as well as former Arsenal and Juventus enforcer Patrick Vieira. The 2006 World Cup proved to be Figo’s international swansong, helping Portugal reach fourth place, Portugal’s highest finish in the coveted competition since 1966. Figo’s leadership and 3 important assists earned himself a place in the team of the tournament, alongside teammate Maniche. The winger ended his international career, with 127 caps and 32 goals to his name.

Luis Figo was a direct, skilful winger who cherished the challenge to take on any full-back. A scorer of spectacular goals, the midfielder had a fantastic turn of pace when running with the ball, making it difficult for defenders to make a challenge. Luis Figo’s versatility was also an admirable aspect, having shown this through playing in a central role for Real Madrid, orchestrating attacking build-up. In fact, Figo has made the second highest amount of assists in La Liga History, only bettered by 6 time FIFA Ballon D’or winner Lionel Messi.

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