Luis Figo, Barcelona and Real Madrid: The fiercest transfer saga in football

On July 15, 2000, Luis Figo picked up his phone and asked for a favor from a journalist.

Barcelona’s brightest star then invited a Catalan reporter to join his family’s vacation in Sardinia so he could express his thoughts amid growing speculation that rivals Real Madrid would try to sign him. The interview ended with an exploding front cover.

The headlines were “No to Real Madrid” and “I will only play for Barcelona”.

Nine days later, the Portuguese winger, then 27, was standing in the Spanish capital in a Real Madrid jersey, alongside newly elected president Florentino Perez and club legend Alfredo Di Stefano.

It was the end of the wildest transfer saga the football industry had ever seen.

It was a massive battle of narratives and media pressure aimed at gaining power and recognition. It was also the move that introduced Perez into the world of football, spawning the first “galaxy” and creating a wound that will never heal in Barcelona. It hurt sentiment and bolstered vanity so much that more than two decades later, Netflix dissected it in a documentary called The Figo Affair.

It’s been 22 years now, after all. Perhaps this is enough time for Figo, his agent Jose Vega, ex-footballer and mediator Paolo Futteri and Perez to talk about the matter. They are some of the key voices examining the conspiracy flare-up and every plot and coup behind the scenes as Figo transformed from likable to Barcelona’s worst public enemy.

“Getting Vigo on board was a difficult and slow process,” says co-director of the documentary, David Trehorn. “Ultimately, while we were interviewing him, it was about getting him to open up about the transfer. Whether he’s really opening up… I’m not 100% sure he does, but he was incredibly helpful. He was the guy who enabled us to get Florentino has put us in touch with Jose Vega and Paolo Futteri.”

On 24 July 2000, Real Madrid paid £50 million (about $71.5 million) in Figo’s contract, which broke the record £38 million set by Italian striker Christian Vieri when he moved from Lazio to Inter Milan the previous year.

From 1996 to 2001, there was a world record drawing for the transition every summer, but Viggo’s hair is different. This was a pioneer. A move involving two of the biggest clubs and fiercest rivals, as well as a player who will win the Ballon d’Or later that year.

It was also a reminder of how important the big stars are to the club’s strategy and a wake-up call in the role of powerful agents and executives. If they can get Barcelona’s best player to join their toughest rivals all of a sudden, what can’t they do?

Figo loved life in Barcelona, ​​as his former teammate Pep Guardiola explains in the film. Fans have considered him one of the best players in the world and he can sympathize with the spirit of the club. After winning his first league title, he rallied against Real Madrid in front of hundreds of his fans when he chanted, Blancos, little children, salute to the heroes! “.

But the Camp Nou has never seen an atmosphere more brutal and violent than that which erupted on October 21, 2000 – the first day that Figo set foot in Catalonia in a Real Madrid shirt.

Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid

Figo faces former teammate Carles Puyol at the Camp Nou (Photo: Allsport via Getty Images)

“When we warmed up and saw this atmosphere, I would have been happy if the referee decided to cancel the match,” recalls former Real Madrid defender Roberto Carlos.

Bottles of whiskey were thrown onto the playing field. Every time Figo goes to the corner, the game must be stopped due to the elements flying towards the footballer. Local newspapers distributed fake papers with Vigo’s face on it, and he was welcomed into his new hell with cries of “Judas”, “traitor” and “money chaser”.


‘Figo money-grabber’: A Barcelona fan articulates his feelings (Photo: Tony Marshall/EMPICS via Getty Images)

A generation of Barcelona fans will never forgive Figo’s words of loyalty to their club and then his sudden transformation once Perez is appointed president of Real Madrid.

“Money, is always an honest motivator,” says co-director Ben Nichols, and rightfully so. It was the money that made the wheels spin with huge agent fees and it was the money that prevented the Vigo camp from canceling it when they started to think again. Some deals are too big to fail.

The film did not appear as an attempt to sterilize what happened, however, and Figo does not hide his aspirations to feel better valued at Barcelona, ​​a year after extending his last contract. The same goes for the two agents, Veiga and Futre, whose eyes started rolling as soon as they discovered the amount of money involved. It’s fun to see how the main actors contradict themselves despite having benefited from what happened, and how there are still some blurred gray areas for them all.


‘War for Figo’ sports screamed July 6 (Image: Netflix)

And of course, there’s the ruthless Perez.

There was a significant political component to the Figo deal as well. The Barcelona star was the price Perez paid for completing an impossible task: persuading Sosius to vote for him in 2000 to win the election over Lorenzo Sanz, the president who has won two Champions League titles in the past three years.

“Florentino knows he has to do something massive to win an election and is smart enough to create the narrative that will produce a bomb that will blow everyone away,” Nichols says.

“There is also what Florentino Pérez makes with journalists and the media, the whole summer story. The power of the narration is going one way, with Figo talking hopelessly to the media in Barcelona to bring it back the other way, but there is a feeling that when the story began, it went into the heads of the fans. That Perez might be able to pull this off.

Perez, Real Madrid

Perez was photographed in 2000 (Photo: Luis Davila/Cover/Getty Images)

He actually worked and you can still feel some nostalgia in his words when he talks about Viggo’s epic. There is no sign of remorse as you would expect.

“I always tell Louis that with him, it all started,” Perez says in the documentary, half-smiling.

It’s the kind of look you get from someone who knows them but can’t tell the whole story, while they want to show their side of it.

“I don’t think we’ll ever hit absolute rock bottom,” Treyhorn says. “The interesting thing is that all of these guys probably think they’re telling the truth. They each have their story and have probably told it so many times that they think it’s true.”

Where the money that Perez used to pay for Vigo’s release clause came from is not explored in the documentary, perhaps because the angles in this particular aspect are endless.

Futre, the Atletico Madrid legend, helped Real Madrid set things up. In 2016, Vega was arrested and spent three months in prison and two others under house arrest in Portugal after an investigation into money laundering and tax evasion. He denied all allegations against him, saying that everything he did was legal.

Their stories are likely to be a good use of this interesting story.

(Top photo: Christophe Simon/AFP via Getty Images)

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