Imagine your clubs best player, one of the best players in the world joining your bitter rivals after promising he wouldn’t leave. Well that’s exactly what Luis Figo did.
Figo had it all at Barcelona: he was one of the best players in Europe, had won numerous titles with the club and was on track to winning the 2000 Ballon d’Or. Figo was a favourite amongst the fans. After winning the league over bitter rivals Real Madrid, he dyed his hair red and purple and even mocked them in a chant.
He was also in support of Catalonia’s independence which made fans adore him even more. But in the summer of 2000, this love would slowly fade away.
Florentino Perez: Operation sign Luis Figo
In the year 2000, the head of the club, Lorenzo Sanz, went up against businessman Florentino Perez for presidency of Real Madrid. At the time Los Blancos had won the UCL in two of their last three seasons so it was likely that Sanz would be re-elected as president. But Florentino Perez had other ambitious plans to help him try and take control of the club. Those plans involved luring Barcelonas star man Luis Figo.
Perez approached Figo’s agent with a highly priced deal. He offered Figo £1.6 million for signing a pre contract stating that he’d sign for Real Madrid if Perez won presidency. And if Perez lost presidency Figo would keep the money. However, Figo didn’t want to join the club and only signed the contract in order to negotiate a better contract at Barcelona.
When the deal was announced to the public, there was expected outrage from Barca fans. Figo, who ignorantly still thought he wasn’t going to move, denied these allegations saying that Perez was making stuff up for him to be favoured for presidency at Real Madrid. Figo even had the backing of team mates Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique who reassured the fans that he wasn’t going anywhere.
But Perez was still adamant that Figo would sign if he won. Perez also claimed that if Figo didn’t sign, all Madrid members would go to the Bernebau for free. Funded through a clause in the contract stating that Figo would pay £19 million in compensation if he refused to sign. Perez was portrayed by Spanish media as delusional and his chances of winning were very slim. Until, Florentino Perez actually won.
Joan Gaspart’s take on the Figo controversy
Figo’s buy out clause was set at a record breaking £38 million. Barcelona’s president, Joan Gaspart, had a shot at being the hero by bringing Figo back home to Barça. But he refused to pay their bitter rivals for their own player. Till this day Joan Gaspart calls Perez’ move for Figo “a stroke of genius, but illegal”
Figo’s Reign at Real Madrid: The Hatred of Barcelona Fans
In 2002 Barcelona hosted Real Madrid. Two years later and the hatred the fans had for Figo still ran deep. He was given hell throughout the entirety of the game with fans giving him all forms for abuse. From calling him “Judas” to throwing a pigs head at him.
There was so much abuse that the match had to be stopped for 15 minutes. But even after the stoppage the heckling didn’t stop.
Despite all Figo had done for Barca, his reputation will never be repaired. In the words of Barcelona fans:
“We hate you now, for we loved you then.”
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