Full name: Luís Filipe Madeira Caeiro Figo
Date of birth: 04/11/1972
The term Galácticos aptly described a group of world-class players brought to Spanish giants Real Madrid at the start of the millennium. Zidane, Ronaldo and Beckham all came through the Santiago Bernabéu doors during a frenzied few years, following on from the original Galáctico – Portuguese superstar Luís Figo.
The man has become a footballing hero in his home country, and across Europe, thanks to his deft stop-and-go dribbling and playmaking flair. Outstanding performances for the national side, alongside successful stints in Portugal, Spain and Italy, have helped Figo to captivate the masses. As leader of his country’s ‘golden generation’ the former-FIFA World Player of the Year has become an idol across the globe – well, apart from Catalonia that is.
Born on 4 November 1972 in the small, but densely populated, city of Almada, Luís Filipe Madeira Caeiro Figo soon grew to be, some believe, second only to Eusebio as Portugal’s greatest ever player.
Figo had a ball at his feet from an early age and he made his first tentative footballing steps playing for Baroque outfit, Os Pastilhas, in Almada. After impressing visiting scouts Figo moved to Sporting Clube de Portugal to don the famous green and white.
Like many famous Portuguese players before him, his professional career started at the Leões, making his debut in 1989. That same year he became European champion as part of Portugal’s under-16 side, which included compatriot Rui Costa and a number of his nation’s ‘golden generation’.
Figo’s golden touch continued, as he became World champion at under-20 level just two years later. The success Figo was enjoying wasn’t going unnoticed, winning praise from fans and the media alike, as well as receiving the captain’s armband at Sporting, aged just 23.
In his six years at Sporting, Luís made 137 appearances, scoring 16 goals, and was worshipped by those at the Estadio José de Alvalade. However, his tenure as a Sporting hero came to abrupt end when he signed for FC Barcelona. The move though came about in conspicuous circumstances. Figo caused contractual confusion after he signed one with Juventus and another at Parma.
FIFA intervened in the ensuing confusion and blocked Figo from moving to Italy for two years, leaving him in limbo. The decision left Figo with no choice but to forget Italy, for now. Instead he chose to move across the Iberian Peninsula to Barça.
The Bianconeri and Ducali’s loss was undoubtedly Barcelona’s gain as, during his five years at the Catalan giants, he enjoyed great success, both domestically and nationally. Figo became a fan-favourite, captain and symbol of the Spanish giants, collecting an impressive haul of trophies – two Copa del Reys, European Super Cup, Cup Winners Cup, Supercopa de España and, most significantly, La Liga twice. The ‘Lion King’, as he is known, appeared 172 times for Los Culés, garnering plaudits aplenty during his five-year spell.
Figo’s performances at Barcelona, and for Portugal at Euro 2000, hadn’t gone unnoticed. Luís won the Ballon d’Or, and came runner-up in FIFA World Player of the Year, to mark his position as one of the greatest players around.
The Portuguese playmaker was attracting a lot of interest from the biggest clubs in world football, including fierce rivals Real Madrid. Recently appointed president, Florentino Pérez, was keen to make an impact at Madrid, a side who had struggled in recent times.
Pérez vowed to change things and orchestrated one of the most controversial, and most expensive, transfers of all time as Figo moved from Barça to Los Meringues. A world-record transfer fee of £37 million brought the Lion King to the Bernabéu, causing uproar amongst Barça fans whilst others baulked at the mammoth transfer fee.
Los Blancos’ faith and, most importantly, cash, was partly paid back as Figo helped his side to the Primera División in his first season. Figo’s form at Real even saw him go one better than the previous year, as he received the eminent FIFA World Player of the Year award. Figo’s sparking performances continued in his second season with Real as, alongside the latest Galáctico Zinedine Zidane, the side added the UEFA Champions League to their impressive trophy room.
The playmaker was fast becoming a Real legend, but the same couldn’t be said of his profile in Catalonia. The once loved son’s visits to Barcelona were now marred by a venomous Camp Nou crowd, and in 2002 it reached its peak when items were thrown at Figo, varying from whisky bottles to a pig’s head.
Not to be distracted Figo went on to occupy a key role in Madrid’s title win of 2003, his ten goal haul proving a major catalyst in clinching the title. The subsequent 2003-04 season didn’t fare quite so well for Figo and Real, as the side finished fourth and failed in the cups. Figo’s final season at Real proved to be 2004-05, as he found himself on the fringes of the first-team and struggling for form, at an out-of-form Real.
Pastures new in Italy
Despite rumours linking him with a move to Liverpool, Figo opted for a move to Internazionale, signing a 3-year contract with the Nerazzurri. In the season following his £6 million transfer, a revitalised Figo helped Inter to the Coppa Italia and third spot in Serie A.
Little did he know at the time, but that season would see him collect his first Serie A championship medal, after the match fixing scandal saw Juventus stripped of their title and second place A.C. Milan lose 30-points. Figo’s second season at Inter saw him taste true success, not one by default, after helping an unstoppable Inter to the Scudetto.
That summer, Figo, a man who is not unfamiliar with transfer controversy, completed a spectacular about-face after turning his back on a money-spinning move to Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad, having reportedly signed for them.
Instead, Figo renewed his contract at Inter, until the end of the 2007-08 season, and has since continued to impress, with Inter looking set to win the Scudetto for the third successive season. Rumours abound that, when his contract is up at La Beneamata, he could make the move to the MLS, whilst others suggest he could make the move to Queens Park Rangers or Fulham after rumours surfaced about Figo purchasing a house in West London.
At international level, Figo was a tour de force and leader of Portugal’s so-called ‘golden generation’. Having won the FIFA U-16 World Cup in 1989, he followed that triumph up with the under 20 title just two years later on home territory.
Having impressed for club and country he soon made the step up to full international level, making his debut for the senior side against Luxembourg at the of 18. That game was just the first of an often-spectacular international career that saw Figo amass 127 games, scoring an impressive 32 goals, for his country, en-route to making himself one of the world’s best players.
Figo made a massive mark on the international stage, appearing at Euro 1996, 2000 and 2004, as well as the FIFA World Cup’s in 2002 and 2006. It was Figo’s performances at Euro 2000 that catapulted him to global fame, and proved vital in his move to Real Madrid. Portugal’s semi-final loss in 2000 was bettered in the following tournament, as hosts Portugal eventually lost at the final hurdle, having suffered a shock defeat to Greece in the final.
After the game, Figo retired from international football, but soon reversed his decision to captain the Selecção das Quinas in the World Cup 2006 in Germany. A magnificent performance by both Figo, and his country, saw Portugal through to the semi-finals, before being knocked out by eventual champions France. The third-placed playoff defeat to Germany proved Figo’s last as he ended his international career once and for all, to draw to a close a fantastic career for his country.
- 1989 – 1995 Sporting CP 137 games (16 goals)
- 1995 – 2000 FC Barelona 172 games (30 goals)
- 2000 – 2005 Real Madrid 165 games (36 games)
- 2005 – Inter Milan 81 games (8 goals)
- 1991 – 2006 Portugal 127 games (32 goals)
- Campeonato de Portugal 1995
- La Liga 1998 & 1999
- Copa del Rey 1997 & 1998
- Supercopa de España 1996
- UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup 1997
- European Super Cup 1997
- La Liga 2001 & 2003
- Supercopa de España 2001 & 2003
- UEFA Champions League 2002
- Intercontinental Cup 2002
- European Super Cup 2002
- Serie A 2006 & 2007
- Coppa Italia 2006
- Italian Super Cup 2005 & 2006
- UEFA Euro 2004 Runner-up
- FIFA U-16 World Cup 1989
- FIFA U-20 World Cup 1991
- Ballon d’Or 2000
- FIFA World Player of the Year 2001
- FIFA World Player of the Year Runner-Up 2000
- Portuguese Footballer of the Year 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 & 2000
- UEFA Team of the Year 2003
- FIFA World Cup All-Star Team 2006
- FIFA 100
|1989 – 1995||Sporting Club de Portugal||137 (16)|
|1995 – 2000||FC Barcelona||172 (30)|
|2000 – 2005||Real Madrid||165 (36)|
|2005 – Present||Internazionale||84 (8)|