Luís Figo

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Luís Figo
Luís Figo arriving at IKA Tehran Airport.jpg
Figo in Tehran in 2015
Personal information
Full name Luís Filipe Madeira Caeiro Figo
Date of birth (1972-11-04) 4 November 1972 (age 46)
Place of birth Almada, Portugal
Height 1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)[1]
Playing position Winger
Youth career
Os Pastilhas
1984–1989 Sporting CP
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1989–1995 Sporting CP 137 (16)
1995–2000 Barcelona 172 (30)
2000–2005 Real Madrid 164 (38)
2005–2009 Internazionale 105 (9)
Total 577 (93)
National team
1988–1989 Portugal U16 15 (8)
1989 Portugal U17 6 (2)
1988–1990 Portugal U18 21 (8)
1990–1991 Portugal U20 12 (0)
1991–1994 Portugal U21 7 (0)
1991–2006 Portugal 127 (32)

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

† Appearances (goals)

Luís Filipe Madeira Caeiro Figo, OIH (Portuguese pronunciation: [luˈiʃ ˈfiɣu]; born 4 November 1972) is a retired Portuguese footballer. He played as a winger for Sporting CP, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Internazionale before retiring on 31 May 2009. He won a record 127 caps for the Portugal national football team.

Renowned for his creativity and having the ability to get past defenders, Figo is regarded as one of the greatest wingers of his generation.[2][3] He made 106 assists in La Liga, the second most in La Liga history, behind Lionel Messi.[4] He won the 2000 Ballon d'Or, 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year, and in 2004 was named in the FIFA 100 list of the world's greatest living players.[5] Figo is one of the few football players to have played for both Spanish rival clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid. His controversial transfer in 2000 from Barcelona to bitter rivals Real Madrid set a world record fee of £37 million (€62 million).[6]

Figo had a successful career highlighted by several trophy wins, including the Portuguese Cup, four La Liga titles, two Spanish Cups, three Spanish Super Cups, one UEFA Champions League title, one UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, two UEFA Super Cups, one Intercontinental Cup, four Serie A titles, one Italian Cup and three Italian Super Cups. On the international level, he scored 32 goals for Portugal, representing the nation at three European Championships and two World Cups, helping it finish runner-up at Euro 2004.

Early years

The only child of António Caeiro Figo and Maria Joana Pestana Madeira who moved from Alentejo to Lisbon in the early 1970s, Figo grew up in the working-class district of Cova da Piedade, Almada. He began his career as a street footballer at U.F.C. Os Pastilhas, before joining Sporting Clube de Portugal at the age of 11.[7]

Club career

Sporting CP

Figo started his career at Sporting CP, making his league debut on 1 April 1990 during the 1989–90 season as a substitute for Marlon Brandão in a 1–0 home win against Marítimo.[8][9] His other two appearances were against Boavista 24 days later and Belenenses on 13 May, the former which Sporting were held in a 2–2 draw,[10] and the latter a 1–0 defeat.[11] On 7 December 1991, Figo scored his first goal against Torreense in the 1991–92 season, cancelling out Rosário's opener as Sporting won 2–1. He won his first senior international cap in 1991. Prior to that, he won the Under-21 World Championships and Under-16 European Championships with Portugal junior sides alongside Rui Costa and João Pinto. He was also a significant part of Portugal's "Golden Generation." In his final season at Sporting he won the 1994–95 Portuguese Cup.[12]sup


In 1995, Figo looked poised to join one of the big clubs of Europe, but a dispute between Italian clubs Juventus and Parma, with Figo having signed contracts with both clubs, resulted in an Italian two-year transfer ban on him. Eventually, Figo made a move to Spanish giants Barcelona for a £2.25 million fee, being loaned back for the remainder of the season due to a rule prohibiting Portuguese players from signing for foreign clubs outside a fixed period. This rule had prevented Figo from joining English club Manchester City, where he had been recommended by his former Sporting manager Malcolm Allison for a fee of around £1.2 million.[13]

It was with Barcelona that Figo's career really took off, winning the 1996–97 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, starring alongside Ronaldo, followed by successive Primera División titles where he was part of a formidable attack which included Rivaldo and Patrick Kluivert. In total, Figo appeared 172 times in the league for Barcelona, scoring 30 goals. He was revered in Catalonia because his presence in a Barcelona shirt had given the region a sense of external approval. According to a club official, Figo's support for Catalonia meant more to Barcelona than the service of a home grown hero in Pep Guardiola.[14]

Real Madrid

By the second or third corner I turned to Luís Figo and said: ‘Forget it, mate. You’re on your own’. I used to offer Luís the chance to take the short corner, drawing up close to him near the touchline, but not this time. Missiles were raining down from the stands: coins, a knife, a glass whisky bottle. Johnnie Walker, I think. Or J&B. Best to keep away. Short corners? No thanks.

—Real Madrid teammate Michel Salgado on the vitriol aimed at Figo from Barcelona fans at the Camp Nou, 23 November 2002.[15]

In July 2000, Figo made a surprising and controversial $60.1 million move to Barcelona's bitter rivals Real Madrid.[16] There had been a buy out clause in his contract at Barcelona, a new world record fee, which Real Madrid met, and his arrival at Madrid signalled the beginning of Florentino Pérez's "Galáctico era" of global stars signed by the club every year.[15] Figo became the new focus of the Barcelona–Real Madrid rivalry, with Barcelona fans feeling betrayed by his transfer and turned against him.[15] His move to Madrid was significant due to his status as a star player at Barcelona, reliable and committed to the cause as a team leader.[15] One of his Barcelona teammates stated, “Our plan was simple: give the ball to Luís. He never, ever hid.”[15] Although now wearing the white shirt of Real Madrid, he won the Ballon d’Or award in November 2000, largely for what he did for Barcelona where he became the best in the world.[15]

When Figo returned to Barcelona for the first time in a Real Madrid shirt on 21 October 2000, the noise at Camp Nou was deafening.[15] There were banners hung around the stadium with words like "Traitor", "Judas", "Scum", and "Mercenary".[15] Figo was mercilessly taunted throughout, and when he came out of the tunnel and ran on to the field the jeers of almost 98,000 Barcelona fans escalated, with a visibly shocked Figo putting his fingers to his ears.[14][15] When El Clásico started, each time Figo got the ball the noise rose with insults and missiles flying such as oranges, bottles, cigarette lighters and mobile phones.[15] The regular corner taker for Madrid, Figo did not take any corners at the Camp Nou to avoid being in close proximity to the fans.[15] Barcelona were victorious, winning 2–0, and Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez stated after the match, "The atmosphere got to us all."[15] Madrid defender Iván Campo commented, "That night when Figo first went back was incredible. I’ve never heard anything like it. Luís didn't deserve that. He'd given his all for Barcelona. It was built up before: 'a traitor’s coming,' the media said. No, Luís Figo is coming, one of the greats for you. That night hurt him, you could see. His head was bowed and he was thinking: 'bloody hell, I was here last season ...' But my lasting emotion was admiration: you’ve got balls."[15]

In his first season with Madrid, Figo won the 2001 La Liga title, scoring 14 goals in all competitions. He received the 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year.[12] He would be joined at the club by Zinedine Zidane in the summer of 2001, and in the following season Madrid won the 2001–02 UEFA Champions League, Figo's second major European trophy.[12]

Figo's second game back at the Camp Nou, on 23 November 2002, produced one of the defining images of the Barcelona–Real Madrid rivalry.[15] There was no sign of the hatred or the hurt subsiding, and every time he came within range of the Barcelona fans, beer cans, lighters, bottles and golf balls flew.[15] Figo commented, "I was worried that some madman might lose his head."[15] This time, Figo had decided that he would take corners, as well as throw-ins, and midway through the second half Madrid won a corner. Amid a shower of flying objects, it took Figo two minutes to take it.[15] Another corner followed on the other side, and as Figo walked across, he slowed to pick up the missiles and as he prepared to take the corner he moved away some of the debris, while giving an ironic thumbs-up and smiling.[15] Every time he began his run-up to take the corner, another missile would land which was repeated over and over, until the referee Luis Medina Cantalejo suspended the game for almost 20 minutes.[15] During the break in play, the defining image of the rivalry, a pig's head, was picked up on camera, which was in among the debris near the corner flag.[17]

Figo would spend five seasons at Madrid, with his final success being the 2003 La Liga title. In April 2013, Figo was named by the sports newspaper Marca as a member of the "Best foreign eleven in Real Madrid's history."[18]


Luís Figo in 2009. He spent four seasons at Inter from 2005 to 2009.

Figo left Real Madrid to join Italian club Internazionale in the summer of 2005 on a free transfer after his contract with Madrid had expired. This meant that Figo would finally be able to play for a club in Italy, something he had the chance to do before his move to Barcelona, but was scuppered due to a dispute between the two clubs interested, Juventus and Parma. During the summer of 2008, Figo's compatriot José Mourinho joined Inter on a managerial level. This has been said to please Figo, as he would have several Portuguese teammates during the remainder of his stay at Inter.

On 16 May 2009, Figo announced his retirement from football, the same day Inter won the 2008–09 title, and re-confirmed this on 30 May; his final game was on 31 May against Atalanta at the San Siro. At Javier Zanetti's insistence, Figo captained the side for his very last match. He received a standing ovation from the crowd as he was substituted by Davide Santon. The free-kick he scored in extra time against Roma during the Supercoppa Italiana was his most memorable moment in Italy.[19][20]

Figo said, "I am leaving football, not Inter." He was interviewed by Inter Channel after his last game against Atalanta and also said, "I hope to be able to help this club to become even greater also after my retirement. I will certainly work for Inter in the future in the club board. I never imagined that I was going to remain here for such a long time. What I will never forget is the love that I have received since my first day here from my teammates and president Massimo Moratti. I will never forget it; Inter have given me the chance to start a winning cycle with some extraordinary people."[21] Figo was on the sidelines when Inter won the 2009–10 UEFA Champions League on 22 May 2010.

International career

Early international career

Figo as captain of Portugal in 2005

The leader of Portugal's "Golden Generation," Figo won a FIFA World Youth Championship in 1991, the same year he made his senior debut against Luxembourg on 16 October 1991, in a friendly match that ended 1–1 when he was only 18 years old. His first goal equalised in a 2–1 friendly victory over Bulgaria in Paris on 11 November 1992. Figo scored three goals in eight qualifying games for UEFA Euro 1996, as his country reached the continental tournament for the first time in 12 years. In the final group game at the tournament, against Croatia at the City Ground in Nottingham, Figo opened a 3–0 victory with a fourth-minute strike; the result sent Portugal into the quarter-finals as group winners ahead of their opponents.[22]

Euro 2000 and 2002 World Cup

Figo featured in all ten of Portugal's qualifiers for the next European Championship, scoring three times in the process. On 12 June 2000, in their opening game of the tournament in Eindhoven, he scored Portugal's first goal as they came from behind to beat England 3–2, again advancing as group winners to be eliminated in the quarter-finals.[23] He was rested by Humberto Coelho for the final group match against Germany in Rotterdam, breaking a chain of 32 consecutive international appearances.[24] His only hat-trick for the national team came on 15 August 2001, when he netted all of the goals in a 3–0 friendly victory over Moldova at the Estádio de São Luís in Faro.[25]

With six goals in nine matches, Figo helped Portugal qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup; on 2 June 2001, in the qualifier against the Republic of Ireland at Lansdowne Road, he served as captain for the first time on his 74th cap and scored the equaliser for a 1–1 draw.[24] In their first World Cup since 1986, Portugal suffered group stage elimination.

Euro 2004 and 2006 World Cup

On 18 February 2004, Figo earned his 100th cap in a 1–1 friendly draw with England at the Estádio Algarve, playing as captain despite regular skipper Fernando Couto being in the starting line-up.[26] Later that year at the European Championship on home soil, he captained the side after Couto was dropped.[27] He announced his retirement from international football following the Euro 2004 final upset-defeat by Greece due to an elleged rift between him and national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, although this was denied.[28] In June 2005, he reversed his decision and returned for the 2006 World Cup qualifying wins against Slovakia and Estonia under Scolari.[29]

Figo playing against Mexico at the 2006 World Cup

Figo captained the squad during the 2006 World Cup, leading the team to the semi-finals. With three wins, Portugal finished top of their group and qualified for the knock-out rounds with Mexico. They advanced past the Netherlands in the last 16, and defeated England on penalties in the quarter-final. Figo did not take part in the shootout, having been substituted for Hélder Postiga.[30] In the semi-final, Portugal were beaten by France courtesy of a penalty from his former club-mate and French captain Zinedine Zidane. This was Portugal's best finish in 40 years. The third place playoff caused some controversy as Figo did not start; Pauleta captained the team in his place. However, Portugal fell behind 2–0 to hosts Germany and Figo replaced Pauleta in the 77th minute, who handed him back the captain's armband to cheers from both Portuguese and German fans. Although Germany scored another goal shortly after Figo's entrance, he ended his final cap for his country on a high note by setting up Nuno Gomes to head in an 88th-minute consolation goal.[31]

Despite having no trophies to show for the "Golden Generation," Figo managed to captain the team to their best World Cup performance since the Eusébio era in 1966, as well as helping Portugal to their best-ever result in the UEFA European Championship. He finished his international career with 127 caps and scoring 32 goals, and he currently holds the record for most appearances with the Portuguese national team; he is also Portugal's fourth-highest all time goalscorer.[12]

Style of play

Figo is regarded as one of the greatest players of his generation,[32] and one of the greatest Portuguese players of all time.[33] At his physical peak, Figo was a quick, elegant, highly skilful player with a dribbling ability that allowed him to frequently take on and beat defenders in one on one situations.[32] He would often employ feints to beat opponents, such as stepovers.[34] Figo was usually deployed as a winger in his early career,[35] where he was capable of providing several assists,[36] due to his ability to provide curling crosses to teammates.[37] He made the second most assists in La Liga history behind Lionel Messi.[4]

As he lost pace and mobility with age as his career advanced, he was deployed in a playmaking role as an attacking midfielder, in particular during his time with Inter, where he excelled with his vision and varied passing ability.[38][39][40] Although he primarily served as a creative player, he was also capable of contributing offensively with goals due to his powerful striking ability from distance,[32] as well as his accuracy from free-kicks and penalties.[34] In addition to his football ability, Figo was also highly regarded for his leadership throughout his career.[34]


Figo has appeared in commercials for the American sportswear company Nike.[41][42] In 1996, he starred in a Nike commercial titled "Good vs Evil" in a gladiatorial game set in a Roman amphitheatre. Appearing alongside football players from around the world, including Ronaldo, Paolo Maldini, Eric Cantona, Patrick Kluivert and Jorge Campos, they defend "the beautiful game" against a team of demonic warriors, before it culminates with Cantona striking the ball and destroying evil.[41]

In a global Nike advertising campaign in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, Figo starred in a "Secret Tournament" commercial (branded by Nike as "Scorpion KO") directed by Terry Gilliam, appearing alongside football players such as Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, Francesco Totti, Roberto Carlos and Japanese star Hidetoshi Nakata, with former player Eric Cantona the tournament "referee."[43][44]

In 2015, the arcade game company Konami announced that Figo would feature in their football video game Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 as one of the new myClub Legends.[45]

FIFA presidency campaign

On 28 January 2015, Figo announced his intention to run against incumbent Sepp Blatter for the position of FIFA president.[46][47][48] His endorsers included José Mourinho[49] and David Beckham.[50] In his manifesto, Figo mentioned his support for expanding the World Cup to 48-team finals tournaments, and promised greater investment in grassroots football and national federations.[50] Considered an outsider compared to Blatter and the other two candidates[50]Michael van Praag and Prince Ali of Jordan – Figo withdrew from the election campaign on 21 May, stating that he did not want to be given "absolute power."[51]

Personal life

Luís Figo in Madrid

Figo is married to Swedish model Helen Svedin. They met at a flamenco show and are now married with three daughters – Daniela (born in March 1999), Martina (born in April 2002), and Stella (born 9 December 2004). They have a house in the countryside outside Sollefteå, Sweden.

Along with his countryman, former Portugal national team manager and former youth team coach Carlos Queiroz, Figo was briefly joint seat holder for A1 Team Portugal, in A1 Grand Prix, during the 2005–06 season. He now owns an upscale bar in the Algarve region of Portugal.

Figo is an ambassador for the Stop TB Partnership in the fight against tuberculosis.[52] He works closely with Internazionale, serving as an ambassador for the club at functions across Europe.[53][54] He is also a board member of the Inter Campus charity project run by Internazionale.[55]

Figo is the founder of Network90, a private members' networking site for the Professional Football Industry.[56] Figo is fluent in five languages: Portuguese, Spanish, English, Italian and French.[57]

Career statistics


Club League Season League Cup Europe Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Sporting CP Primeira Liga 1989–90 3 0 3 0
1990–91 3 0 3 0
1991–92 34 1 7 0 2 0 43 1
1992–93 32 0 8 1 2 0 42 1
1993–94 31 8 1 0 3 0 35 8
1994–95 34 7 7 3 2 0 43 10
Total 137 16 23 4 9 0 169 20
Barcelona La Liga 1995–96 35 5 8 1 10 3 53 9
1996–97 36 4 9 2 8 1 53 7
1997–98 35 5 4 0 7 1 46 6
1998–99 34 7 10 1 6 1 50 9
1999–2000 32 9 2 0 13 5 47 14
Total 172 30 33 4 44 11 249 45
Real Madrid La Liga 2000–01 34 9 1 0 14 5 49 14
2001–02 28 7 6 1 10 3 44 11
2002–03 33 10 1 0 15 2 48 12
2003–04 36 9 8 3 11 1 55 13
2004–05 33 3 0 0 10 4 43 7
Total 164 38 16 4 60 15 239 57
Internazionale Serie A 2005–06 34 5 2 0 8 1 45 6
2006–07 32 2 7 1 7 0 47 3
2007–08 17 1 2 0 3 0 21 1
2008–09 22 1 3 0 25 1
Total 105 9 11 1 21 1 138 11
Total Portugal 137 16 23 4 9 0 169 20
Spain 336 68 49 8 104 26 488 102
Italy 105 9 11 1 21 1 138 11
Career total 577 93 83 13 134 27 795 133



Portugal national team
Year Apps Goals
1991 3 0
1992 7 1
1993 5 0
1994 5 2
1995 6 1
1996 9 2
1997 7 2
1998 6 0
1999 9 4
2000 13 6
2001 9 9
2002 10 0
2003 10 3
2004 11 1
2005 7 0
2006 10 1
Total 127 32



Sporting CP[61]
Real Madrid[61]





Notes and references

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External links