Luis Figo: Football’s Controversial Transfer

Very few transfers have sparked a fire among fan bases like the FC Barcelona to Real Madrid transfer of Luís Figo in 2000. What not only looked to be an insurmountable transfer fee of €62 million, the election for Real Madrid’s new club president also weighed heavily upon the transfer of football’s biggest star at the time.

Early Career of an Icon

Figo began his career at the age of 12, playing for Os Pastilhas before joining the Sporting CP academy club. In the 1991/1992 season, Figo would score his first goal at the age of 19 against Torreense. After scoring 11 goals in each of the 1993/1994 and 1994/1995 seasons, the bidding war began for Figo, but first in Italy.

Figo found himself with a two-year transfer ban in the country as a result of signing contracts with both Juventus and Parma. This would open the door to a transfer to neighbouring Spain. FC Barcelona would become the winners of the Figo stakes, or so they thought.

Signing with FC Barcelona

In 1995 it was clear Figo was set to be the next world football superstar. FC Barcelona would pay the big dollars (€2.2 million transfer fee) to acquire his talents. Spanning five years with FC Barcelona, Figo would tally 249 appearances along with 45 goals.

Figo had a knack for finding the back of the net in the biggest, most important, situations. Along with his two league titles and two Copa Del Rey trophies, Figo also was apart of the squads that earned a UEFA Cup Winners Cup (1996/1997) and a UEFA Super Cup (1997).

On the Brink of a Major Controversy

Initially, it may be hard to believe, but the controversy of Figo potentially signing with FC Barcelona’s biggest rival hinged on the new Real Madrid presidential position. Florentino Pérez, a businessman and chairman of Grupo ACS, put his hat in the race to run as the club’s newest president.

Pérez made one of the biggest promises a club president could ever make, promising the signing of the football world’s biggest star, pending his election as the new Real Madrid president. Not only was 2000 a tough year to make such a promise, it was also Figo’s best season of his career, earning the 2000 Ballon d’Or trophy with 197 points under both the FC Barcelona and Real Madrid banners.

In the Netflix documentary titled The Figo Affar; The Transfer that Changed Football, Figo stated he did not feel valued by the management of FC Barcelona like he did from the fanbase and “ok’d” his agent, Jose Veiga, to speak with Real Madrid management.

Portuguese superstar, Paulo Futre, was even pulled into the mix to bring in Figo to Real Madrid. Spanning 15 years, Futre himself would have 330 appearances with 77 goals along with 86 international appearances and 15 international goals. Looked up to as a hero by Figo, Futre would finish second in the Ballon d’Or race in 1987.

The obvious major roadblock in Real Madrid acquiring Figo (aside from him just wanting to stay where he was) included the €60million release clause fee, the highest ever if paid at the time. With a large fee of his own to be captured, Veiga worked hard with Pérez and Figo to make a signing.

In the end, it appeared Veiga signed the contract on behalf of Figo. According to the documentary from Veiga’s point of view, he received permission from Figo, who was unable at the time to physically sign in person. Regardless, this would spark one of the biggest transfer controversies in sports history.

The Move to Real Madrid

The signing would be the start of a trend by Pérez as president known as Galácticoera era, where Pérez would early sign the best talent from around the world to stock the roster, rather than homegrown Spanish talent. This became world news as Figo was leaving to join a club’s biggest rival.

For Figo, it was about feeling like he belonged and was loved by the club. The return to Camp Nou to play his former team would be one for the ages, not only fans, but for Figo as well. The environment for this particular match made for one of the most hate-filled settings in football history.

The game could have been forced into a cancellation due to the amount of dangerous debris flying onto the field, especially when Figo would go near the corners. Signs hung showing their displeasure even referring to Figo as the biblical character, Judas.

Near 98,000 fans packed Camp Nou for the matchup, most to torment and torture Figo every single time he touched the ball. The Barcelona fans did have something to walk away happy about, a 2-0 victory over their most-hated foe.

One will be hard-pressed to find another transfer in the sport to have such an effect on all parties involved like this one. Figo would go on to continue to have several good years at Real Madrid before leaving for Inter Milan in 2005. In his five seasons with Real Madrid, Figo would tally 58 goals in 245 appearances along with a UEFA Champions league title and the 2002 UEFA Super Cup.

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