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Legends in Review – Luis Figo

An incredibly gifted attacker, Luis Figo epitomised football in the 90s and 2000s. The Portuguese star was the perfect attacking player, quick, intelligent and possessing the ability to play with both feet, he was unstoppable in his prime.

Throughout his exceptional 20 year career, Figo won several teams and individual accolades at Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan. His most notable moment in football came when he moved from Barcelona to Madrid in 2000. It was a moment that shocked the footballing world and one that fans will never forget.

Figo – The Early Days

Luis Felipe Madeira Caeiro Figo was born in November 1972 in the Portuguese city of Almada. According to his parents, as soon as Figo could walk, he was playing football.

It was no surprise when he joined his first club U.F.C. OsPastilhas at a young age. While Figo impressed at a local, grassroots level, larger clubs in Portugal took note of the impressive starlet.

Despite receiving offers from several high-profile clubs in Portugal, Figo chose Sporting Lisbon. From age 11, Figo rose through the youth ranks at Sporting C.P and made a name for himself as a creative, tricky and intelligent wide player. As a result, he represented Portugal at various youth levels whilst still playing for the youth teams at Sporting C.P.

Sporting Lisbon – 137 Appearances – 16 Goals

After years developing at youth level, Figo finally earned his first appearance in a Sporting C.P shirt in April 1990. He came on as a substitute in a late-season match against Maritimo.

In successive years, Figo would feature more regularly for Sporting. He represented the club at national and European level, receiving his first taste of the European Cup in 1990.

Figo remained at Sporting C.P for four seasons and impressed enough to attract interest from Europe’s top clubs. Both Parma and Juventus were leading the chase for Figo in the summer of 1995. However, it was Spanish Goliath Barcelona who caught Figo’s eye the most.

Barcelona – 248 Appearances – 45 Goals

Figo joined Barca in July 1995 for Β£2.25 million. He impressed immediately and became a central figure at the club. In his first season in Catalonia, Figo played 51 games, scored eight goals and helped Barca to win the Spanish Super Cup.

Years of success followed for Figo and Barcelona. The Portuguese midfielder was part of a talented side who won back to back la Liga titles between 1997 and 1999. He also lifted two Copa Del Reys between 1996 and 1998.

In this period, Figo was revered in Barcelona. Well regarded for his graceful style of play and exceptional creativity in attack, the fans adored the midfielder. He was a player made for Barcelona’s style.

However, after winning the Ballon D’or in 2000, Figo controversially moved from Barcelona to Real Madrid. A move which shocked both Barcelona fans and the footballing world.

Real Madrid – 164 Appearances – 37 Goals

Madrid paid Β£54 million to Barcelona for Figo in summer 2000. The move led to disdain from the Barcelona fans, who would never let Figo forget how much he let them down by moving to their most loathed rivals. When Figo returned to the Nou Camp, the Portuguese star was forced to put his hands over his ears due to the deafening boos from the home crowd.

However, despite the intensity of the transfer, Figo continued to perform at an exceptional level for Madrid. In his first season, Figo lifted his third La Liga title, providing 18 assists for his teammates throughout the campaign. In 2002, Figo won his first and only Champions League winner’s medal. The Portuguese featured in the second leg of the semi-final, where Madrid eliminated Barcelona with a 1-1 draw.

Figo won another La Liga in 2003, his third successive year winning a trophy with Madrid and his fourth La Liga overall. But, following years of sustained success, Figo left Madrid ahead of the 2005/06 season.

Inter Milan – 105 Appearances – 9 Goals

Serie A was always a league Figo admired. He earned his dream move to Inter Milan in July 2005, leaving Madrid on a free transfer when his contract expired.

Despite his advancing age, Figo continued to impress for Inter in Serie A. He took up a more withdrawn role as a playmaker for the team. It was a move that suited the more rigid demands of Italian football. Figo used his creativity and vision to provide goals, rather than the trickery and pace he was renowned for earlier in his career.

In Figo’s four seasons with the club, he won four consecutive Serie A titles, three Italian Super Cups and one Italian Cup. The Portuguese superstar announced his retirement on the same day Inter lifted the 2008/09 Serie A title.

Portugal National Team – 127 Appearances – 32 Goals

Figo was part of Portugal’s ‘Golden Generation’. At youth level, he was part of a talented team that included Rui Costa and Joao Pinto. The team won the under 16 and under 20 European Championships in the early 90s.

However, the expectations of this exciting young team did not translate to major tournaments at senior level. Figo played in five major international tournaments in his Portugal career and reached two semi-finals and one final.

Figo was a key player in the Euro 2000 squad who progressed to the semi-finals only to be eliminated by France. The creative midfielder played a starring role, missing just one game and assisting three goals.

Four years later, Figo captained Portugal to the final of Euro 2004. He played in every match in the tournament and helped his side to see off the likes of England, Spain and the Netherlands. But it was a plucky Greece side that shattered Portuguese hearts in the final. Portugal lost 1-0; a result that denied Figo his only major international honour.

He captained the team to the semi-finals in the 2006 World Cup, where he played alongside Cristiano Ronaldo as the focal point of the team. However, the promising Portuguese team narrowly lost to France in the semi-finals. it was Figo’s final tournament before retiring from international football.

Style of Play

As a younger player, Figo had raw pace and acceleration. This combined with exceptional footwork and skills meant he could ghost past players with ease.

But his danger in attacking situations was exemplified by his remarkable technical skills. Figo was a superb crosser of the ball and often scored from free-kicks and assisted from long balls or dead ball situations.

Later in his career, Figo played as more of a playmaker, dictating the play and running with the ball less. This highlighted his football intelligence and he continued to be an effective player right up until his retirement in 2009.

Football Legacy

Figo was one of the most decorated players in European football and is one of the greatest Portuguese players ever. His longevity to perform at the highest level in world football has rarely been matched.

The Portuguese star is mostly remembered for his switch from Barcelona to Real Madrid. It was a brave move and is the subject of much debate among football fans; should he have done it? Why did he do it? Was it a good move?

Regardless, it was a move that didn’t affect his professional standards. Figo was controversial but that never affected his reputation as a true professional, a leader and outstanding footballer.