In Mumbai to launch a futsal league, Portugal football legend Luis Figo recalls the tense moments during his first El Clasico at Nou Camp soon after a record transfer from Barcelona to bitter rivals Real Madrid in 2000
It's over a decade-and-a-half ago, and Luis Figo initially behaves as though he doesn't remember much about his then world record move from Barcelona to arch-rivals Real Madrid in July, 2000.
October 21, 2000: Barcelona fans burn a poster of Luis Figo during the Spanish League match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Nou Camp in Barcelona. Figo, who had left the Catalonia club to join Real, was playing in Barcelona for the first time since his move. Pic/AFP
Slowly but surely he opens up, though. "Oh that was a long, long time ago… I don't remember anything now," he says during a dinner for select media at a city hotel on Monday. And then, in a flash, just like his brilliant, body feints that could bring down some of the word's best defenders in his heyday, the stylish winger recalls his first Clasico at Nou Camp in October 2000.
Barca press build-up
"The Barcelona press wrote a lot against me before the match. But it was like any other match for me. I went there and did my job, but we lost (0-2) and that's how it was. We were unfortunate," says Figo, in the city to launch Premier Futsal, a five-a-side eight city-based franchise football league beginning in July.
So, was it scary given the hostile 98000-strong crowd was cursing, abusing, burning his posters and even hurling missiles at him? "Not really," he insists, going on to add: "I had no fear… I played normally. You have to go out there and give your best. My only fear was that if one man, one crazy fan, came onto to the pitch and did some damage to me, then I'd like to see what the Barcelona press would have written," says the 43-year-old with some conviction in his voice now.
Figo joined Barcelona from Sporting Lisbon in 1995 and played for five seasons, making a huge name for himself before shocking the world with his move Real Madrid in 2000. Less than a season at Madrid, he reaped the rewards of his Barcelona brilliance, winning the prestigious Ballon d'Or or FIFA World Player of the Year award in December.
Figo began the Galactico era under president Florentino Perez and went on to share the dressing room with some legends of the game like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, David Beckham, Raul and Roberto Carlos among others.
It's no wonder he speaks so highly of former teammate Zidane, who recently won his inaugural Clasico as manager of Real Madrid. "He's doing very well as manager. That was a good game. I watched it. I think he has lost just one game (0-1 to Atletico Madrid on Feb 27) before this in the La Liga as manager so far, so that's very good," says the Madrid resident.
Figo went on to represent Internazionale after five seasons at Real, but insists the Clasico is more emotional than the Milan derby. "The fans in Spain are different. They are more passionate about non-football stuff. Fans in Italy have more respect for each other because it's in the same city." Finally, it would be only apt to ask one Portuguese football legend about another. Has Cristiano Ronaldo had a tough season?
'Ronaldo is like caviar'
"I don't think so. He's scored some 40-odd goals, so it's not a tough season. The problem with Ronaldo is that he's like fine caviar and people like that but when he serves up tofu, they feel he's not doing well. I think, because of him Portugal have a very strong chance of winning the Euro this time. They are in a good group (Group F alongside Iceland, Austria and Hungary) too."
Figo leads us to another question: What hurt more — losing the 2004 Euro final (to Greece) or 2006 World Cup semi-final (to France)? "The Euro because that was in front of our home fans. The players, fans were all so heart-broken because the connect with the fans was so great at the time. No other Portugal team can achieve that. Not even this one," he signs off.
December 13, 2000: With the prestigious Ballon D'Or
May 15, 2002: After winning the Champions League in Glasgow
July 4, 2004: During the Euro 2004 final vs Greece in Portugal
July 5, 2006: At the start of the FIFA World Cup semi-final against France in Munich, Germany