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The Figo Affair: The transfer that changed football
1 hour and 44 minutes
If he meets Luis Figo these days, there is one line Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez always tells him. “Figo, it all started with you.”
Perez, a businessman, threw his hat in the ring in the club’s presidential race back in 2000. He was up against the popular incumbent Lorenzo Sanz, who was on a high following Real Madrid’s league title win. Perez wanted to be the disruptor, so he promised to get the big stars to the club and ‘win in capital letters’. Perez’s biggest promise was victory for him would mean Figo would move from Barcelona to Real Madrid. Figo’s was the most expensive transfer and it was the start of the era of Galacticos at Real Madrid.
An unthinkable shift in loyalties for the then best player in the world. Or so the world thought. Little known to others around him, Figo felt he was not appreciated by the suits in Barcelona.
There were elections in Barcelona too and Joan Gaspart, the vice president, was in the running for the president’s post. Gaspart, busy with the polls, didn’t pay too much attention to Figo’s request for a better contract because he didn’t believe any club would match the buy-out clause. Gaspart was in for a surprise.
Perez was ready to pay the $60 million buy out clause and what followed was an intriguing transfer drama in which Figo himself flip-flopped so many times that there are more twists and turns than the Portuguese star did on the wings. Figo gave contradictory newspaper interviews, gave his agent permission to talk to Real Madrid but then backed out saying he won’t leave Barca. Through all this uncertainty, emerges a man confused about what he wants. The pressure he was under by being at the center of this biggest transfer in Spanish football is captured well.
Even today Figo talks like a man with a tear on his mind.
Perez chose former Portugal international Paulo Futre as the go between him and Figo’s agent Jose Viega. With Perez in the room, Futre calls Viega, who after hearing that a candidate who hoped to win Real Madrid elections wanted to sign Figo, puts the phone down. But Futre continued an imaginary conversation and at the end of it Perez got to agree to a six million commission for the deal. In short, the first move for the Figo transfer was built on a lie.
All the protagonists are interviewed in this documentary and each of them, including Figo and Pep Guardiola, his roommate and close friend at Barcelona, give their version of events.
“I wasn’t in the right frame of mind… I was there but I wasn’t there,” is how Figo describes his emotions on the day he joined Real Madrid.
He went on to enjoy success at Real Madrid – league winners and Champions League glory. But there is a tinge of regret which comes through when Figo talks towards the end of the documentary. “Maybe I hurt myself because I couldn’t say no. But I try not to have any regrets because I don’t think it’s of any use.”
For someone who said he ‘felt like a kid with a new ball’ when he was first signed for Barcelona on a two-year contract, Figo ended up being called a traitor and what-not by the Barcelona faithful. Figo played the 2002 El Clasico after switching sides, was booed and even a pig’s head was thrown in his direction (not part of the footage shown). To his credit he didn’t sit on the bench because as he says ‘that would be for cowards’.