Before the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo represented the golden generation of Portugal since the legendary Eusebio. Then he became a legend at Santiago Bernabeu and the move from Barcelona to Real Madrid sparked criticism and hatred in Barcelona, but Figo faced those boldly and went on to become one of the most prominent figures of that Real Galacticos back in the 2000s.
As part of the MARCA Sport Weekend, Figo addressed a number of topics, including his controversial move to Los Blancos, the Galacticos, Zinedine Zidane’s coaching credentials, and the performances of Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Felix.
Who most reminds Figo of Figo in the modern game?
If you have to ask me for a player that reminds me of the way I played, I’ll say that I really like [Ousmane] Dembele. He’s had bad luck with injuries, but he has enormous potential. Then there are others like [Serge] Gnabry at Bayern Munich; he’s very good, young.
They play as a winger and I like their self-confidence when it comes to one-v-ones. Ansu Fati has also started like that. They’re players that I like because they like to take risks and they have no fear. And that’s important for teams that play with wingers. I also like [Cristian] Portu at Real Sociedad.
His move to Real Madrid that changed the game
I don’t know if it’s an exaggeration to say that it changed football, but I’m sure it changed something in Spanish football. Never had there been such an expensive signing and, from that point on, higher fees started to be paid. But that was in 2002, with the first pre-season and tours of China when football began to develop as an industry.
That wasn’t normal and that was the change in the industry of football more geared towards marketing and advertising. Before, there were advertisement deals, but they were more individual agreements, not for an entire team.”
The price he would’ve had to pay for not signing for Real Madrid
I don’t know if the thing about me having to pay a fine if I hadn’t signed for Real Madrid is true, to be honest. I only signed the contract with Madrid either the day or the day after that Florentino won the elections, and I never saw the contract or my agent’s commitment to Florentino.
They held talks and I think that, as part of that commitment, my agent had agreed to take responsibility for the payment of season tickets for every member for a season if I didn’t sign. But I wasn’t aware of that, not had I seen any document about that commitment. It was something that was said but that I didn’t see.
The relationship he had with his fellow Galacticos
It was a fantastic time for the relationships between us. We’re all still good friends today, which shows you the relationships were very positive. Now, the friendships are still very strong between us and it was a special time for everyone for the things we went through, although there were tough moments because of negative results.
Everyone knew what their position and their job were and there were no conflicts, no matter how much you say. Ahead of a run of difficult games, we often got through it because of the good atmosphere between us. When I arrived, Raul [Gonzalez] or [Fernando] Hierro supported me more because I’d played against them more at the international level but we were all one big family. One of the best memories I have of my spell at Madrid is the good relationship I still have with all my teammates.
Did Zidane complain about Figo not passing to him?
They are rumours put out there by the press. I don’t know if Zizou really said that. It’s difficult enough playing on a football pitch without saying, ‘Now I’m passing the ball to him and not to him’. I don’t believe in that. It’s ridiculous that it happens in a game where you have a second to decide [on your pass].
But I remember that after one game, [Javier] Minano, the fitness coach, got me and Zizou together and told us that he wanted to tell us something, to let us know that it had been the most times we’d passed the ball between us. But people would sometimes complain about that, although it wasn’t true, and that hurt because things like that start to then influence people’s opinions.
He never thought Zidane would become a coach
I was really surprised to see him as a coach, though the success he’s had is because of his ability. When you’re playing, you think about who will go into coaching and who won’t, and I don’t think anyone thought Zizou would end up as a coach and look at what he’s achieving.
People like Raul and [Pep] Guardiola, who were captains and lived football intensely, were an example, the leaders; yes, you get the feeling that they’re going to live football in the present and also in the future, in the dugout. So yes, you would guess that Raul would go into coaching.
Can Raul be a tough coach?
Everyone has their own personality and actions that fit with their ideas. To coach Real Madrid, you have to know the club, everything around it, the squad and I don’t think you have to rule by an iron fist to be a coach, just with knowledge and knowing how to manage the human material that you have at your disposal.
The iron fist often serves for nothing, but you do have to be tough inside the dressing room and talk clearly for [your players to] perform and improve.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s form at 35
I’m not surprised by his form because Cristiano has always been a great professional. If injuries are kind to him, he’ll keep scoring goals because it’s a gift he has and, if the physical side allows him – age has an influence in terms of recovery and speed, sure – but if that and his hunger to be decisive and score goals continues, he’ll [score] many more.
I think that in Italy – and I say this from experience – they have a way of thinking in relation to footballers’ ages that’s not like Spain. Here, you get to 30 or 31 and, after one bad game, they say you’re finished. In Italy, they judge you solely on the form that you’re in, not by your birth date.
On Lionel Messi
I watched the thing with Messi and his attempt to leave Barcelona this summer like all football fans: expectantly and surprised. He’ll have his motives and reasons for making that decision. I don’t know what happened beforehand.
Every club wants to have a player like Messi, but then it depends on factors like the current financial situation at the club, the money he’ll cost the club in wages, the will of the player.
But generally, in life, if you don’t want to be somewhere, in the end, there’s nothing that can change your mind.
Joao Felix’s potential
Joao is a young player that has a lot to learn. He’s going to be much better than he is already because of the time he still has to improve. He’s a player that has to play in his natural position to be able to perform at his best. He can play on the wing, but it’s difficult. In terms of performance, you’re going to notice him more if he plays in the middle. He’s a goal-scorer, he picks up good positions and that’s a unique gift in football.