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Defining Moment: Luis Figo Transfers from Barcelona to Real Madrid

Pep Guardiola and Luis Figo, former Barcelona teammates
Pep Guardiola and Luis Figo, former Barcelona teammates

Luis Figo moving to Real Madrid was without doubt the most controversial transfer of all time.

No transfer since has provoked such a negative and hostile reaction from fans of the aggrieved team. Real Madrid broke the transfer record when signing Figo as they paid a massive 37 million pounds. They knew they were getting a star player and they would have been licking their lips all the more knowing that they were getting their hands on their biggest rival’s most prized player.

Figo Celebrating with Barcelona
Figo Celebrating with Barcelona

Figo couldn’t even argue that he was going to Real Madrid to win trophies, as he enjoyed plenty of success at Barcelona. The Portuguese attacker played 172 La Liga games for Barcelona, scored 30 goals, won two league titles, two Copa del Reys and a Cup Winners’ Cup (above, far right). This begs the obvious question then of why he thought this move would be a good idea. To make matters even more awkward for Figo, he won the Ballon d’Or in his first season at Real Madrid, largely due to his performances in a Barcelona shirt.

Figo madrid shirt
Figo madrid shirt

In an interview with Spanish sports website Grada360, Figo said: “At that moment [when I was at Barcelona], I was not satisfied with how I was valued, I had the opportunity and did not think twice. I did not always feel valued for what I had given to the club. For so much time I gave everything that I could and in the end my desire [to leave] became a reality. It is so in any profession, if your boss does not appreciate you and if you have another opportunity certainly you will consider it. And that was so.”

Figo Pigs Head on Pitch
Figo Pigs Head on Pitch

Figo transferred in July, 2000 but did not appear for Real Madrid at Barcelona until 2002. It was in this El Clasico match that the most infamous moment of Figo’s career took place. He went to take a corner against a backdrop of whistle, boos, jeers and abuse. All sorts of debris were raining down on him from the crowd, but most bizarrely and shockingly a pig’s head was thrown at him. The sheer vitriol that the Barcelona fans must have felt for their former star player was so great that someone had smuggled a dead animal’s head into the stadium with a hope to hit Figo with it.

Pigs Head
Pigs Head

Míchel Salgado, who transferred to Blackburn Rovers after his ten year stint at Real Madrid, was Luis Figo’s teammate in that hostile match. Salgado said of the incident: “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.”

Gareth Bale Champions League
Gareth Bale Champions League

Most of us accept that loyalty is a rare thing in football, so why is it that we still find it so infuriating? It all comes down to respect and club loyalty. If your star player moves to a rival club under the pretense that they’re going onto bigger and better things, then you’d quite rightly feel betrayed. Very few fans of teams who rarely, if ever, win silverware don’t hate their quality players who move to top clubs. For example, Tottenham fans do not resent Gareth Bale for leaving to play for Real Madrid. He has since won the Champions League which Tottenham would not have been capable of doing any time in the near future. Had Bale moved to Arsenal to pursue his Champions League dreams however, then you can be certain he would not be held in such high esteem by Spurs fans. There are of course many instances of players playing for two clubs which are rivals, but rarely do they directly transfer between each other. One of England’s fiercest rivalries, Liverpool and Manchester United, understand these unwritten rules. There has not been a direct transfer from Liverpool to Manchester United since 1938, whilst Manchester United haven’t sold to Liverpool since 1964.

Luis Figo Celebrating
Luis Figo Celebrating

Luis Figo seemed to reject the entire premise of club loyalty and respect. This was a defining moment, not only in making the Barcelona-Madrid rivalry more intense than ever, but also in terms of football transfers in general. Any player considering a move to a rival club should definitely think twice and look to Luis Figo’s experience to help them decide whether it’s a good idea or not. The answer is abundantly clear.


BY - Owen Holland

10 June 2015