Luis Figo to Real Madrid: The Most Shocking Football Transfer
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Luis Figo to Real Madrid: The Most Shocking Football Transfer

19/02/24 14:12

"After 20 years that night is still remembered. Figo left as a traitor of Barcelona. He did not appreciate how much they loved him. He made a wrong decision and the fans will never forgive him." These were the words of former Barcelona president Joan Gaspart in 2020. Whilst there is still tons of controversy behind this transfer, one thing is clear. This was Florentino Perez’s masterstroke. This was how Perez changed the beautiful game forever.

Handpicked by Johan Cruyff himself, Luis Figo had everything to become an all-timer at Barcelona. Figo’s arrival to Barcelona was already filled with controversy because Figo had signed a contract with both Parma and Juventus in 1995, which caused him to be banned from Italian football for 2 years. Perhaps this was an omen of things to come but at the time, Barcelona were oblivious to it. The Portuguese winger was a hit at Barcelona and his stature at the club during that time cannot be underestimated. Figo even famously mocked Real Madrid in a title celebration with Barcelona. This is what made the transfer even more shocking.

Whilst Florentino Perez is a household name today, that was not always the case. In 2000 Lorenzo Sanz was the clear favourite to continue his reign as Real Madrid president and yet a masterstroke by Perez changed everything. Perez stood before the Real Madrid club members and told them he would bring Luis Figo to Barcelona and if he did not, he would pay every member’s membership fees for the next year. Sanz had won Real Madrid 2 Champions League titles in his time as president but the promise of being able to wound Barca in this fashion was too intoxicating for the Real Madrid fans and club members.

Luis Figo wanted to renew his contract with Barcelona. There are no doubts about it. He was in love with the club, the city and the fans. There was no reason for him to leave. When the news of a potential Figo-Real Madrid deal first broke out on July 6 2000, Figo completely denied it. His exact words were, "I’m not so mad as to do a thing like that", when he was asked about the rumoured pre agreement with Real Madrid. Figo’s agent had been to Barcelona to discuss a new contract but the club was undergoing a Presidential election and thus no one could officially offer him a new contract. Joan Gaspart, the favourite candidate and eventual winner, did promise to sort it out once he came to office.

This is where things get especially controversial. With Figo constantly denying the news and Perez claiming that it was true, Figo’s agent had signed a conditional agreement with Florentino Perez. Figo, to this day, claims that he did not know about the agreement but his former agent claims that he did consent to it. The agreement claimed that if Figo refused to join Madrid after Perez wins the elections, Figo would pay a penalty fee of around £22 million. Florentino played his cards right and did win the elections. Figo however had no intention of joining Real Madrid at that time. Perez’s former director, Roman Calderon says, "There were two or three days with a lot of confusion.

Veiga (Figo’s agent) tried to give back the money. Veiga had a big penalty clause so he said to Figo, 'If you don’t accept this, I’m going to be bankrupt. I can’t pay. I’ll be ruined.'” Joan Gaspart also won the Barcelona elections days later and claims that Figo begged him to undo the deal with Real Madrid and even claims that the Portuguese superstar was suicidal with worry.

In this chaos, Figo decided to head to the islands of Sardinia with his family. There he posed with a Barcelona shirt and said, "No to Real Madrid. I am only going to play for Barca,". Florentino Perez called him to talk about the possibility of joining Real Madrid. Meanwhile, Gaspart, who had only been in office for a few days, was livid and felt betrayed. In his view, it was Figo’s mess to clean up. On 24 July 2000, Luis Figo was presented as a Real Madrid player, after he was unable to pay the termination fee to Perez. The biggest betrayal in football history was completed.

Figo went from being one of the most loved figures in Barcelona to being one of the most hated. He owned a few restaurants and bars in Barcelona which he had to close because no one went there anymore. Barca offered any fan with a Figo shirt to come over to the club store to get another name on his jersey for free. When the Portuguese did return to the Camp Nou in a Madrid shirt, he faced one of the most hostile atmospheres ever witnessed in the sport. The fans whistled him, booed him and even threw things at him, including the infamous pig head. In 2002, in his second visit to Camp Nou as a Madrista, things got so hostile when Figo went to take a corner that the game was abandoned in the second half.

For Real Madrid, the Figo deal was a huge success. He won 1 Champions League and 2 league titles in 5 years at the club. It kickstarted their Galacticos era and brought in a new era for football. Figo claims he has no regrets about his move, to this day. After his departure, Barcelona massively struggled for a few years and Joan Gaspart had to resign after 2 and a half years at the club. Eventually, Joan Laporta took charge of the club and brought them success again. It was Figo’s former best friend, Pep Guardiola who coached Barcelona to the historic sextuple in 2009. Funny how things work out.

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