July 24th marks the 13th anniversary of one of the most controversial transfers of the 21st century and increased the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona: that of Luis Figo. The Portuguese arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu after Los Blancos paid 60 million euros for one of their arch-rival’s captains.
Figo’s transfer had a dramatic impact for Florentino Perez to achieve the presidency of Real Madrid, as the signing of the Portuguese made him win the elections. His rival, Lorenzo Sanz, had won two Champions Leagues in the previous three years.
In an interview with Portuguese daily Publico, Figo admitted the bad relationship he had with Jose Luis Nunez, Barca’s president at that time, triggered his decision to join Real Madrid.
The person to blame for my signing for Real is Jose Luis Nunez. It was 2000, we were in the Belgium and Netherlands Eurocup when a gentleman named Florentino Perez showed an interest in hiring me. He said he was going to be a candidate for Real Madrid presidency elections. He stated that if he won, I would become a Los Blancos player. But before that I had the chance to sign for an Italian club that would pay my buy-out clause. My agent Jose Veiga told me all that”.
“At that moment we spoke to Nunez, who was going to leave the club that same summer. ‘The only thing you want is a pay rise, do whatever you want’, he told me. But I warned him: ‘I’m not lying to you, I will leave’. Half-way through the Eurocup Veiga told me about Florentino’s proposal. Apparently he was willing to pay my 60 million buy-out clause. I was suspicious about that all and went to tell Nunez again, asked him if he trusted me. He said: ‘I trust you. If they pay the money, you’ll leave’. I got very angry”.
The days passed and I was still irritated because I felt the club’s directors did not value me. I gave Veiga the order to negotiate. We decided to take Florentino’s offer and sign an outline agreement that stated if one of the parties backed down they would have to pay the other party 30 million euros. My agent, Veiga, accepted that responsibility, in case I did not go, he would pay”.
“After the Eurocup I was on holidays in Sardinia. Joan Gaspart was the new president of Barcelona and Florentino won the elections at Real Madrid. At that moment, the negotiations started. The same night Florentino was elected he took a plane with his team and my agent, and came to see me to Sardinia. The moment to make the decision arrived, but I was still unsure. I had pressure from all parts, including Joan Gaspart”.
“They even pressured me through my family. I finally decided to travel to Lisbon and sign a document in which I assumed all the responsibility for what could happen, exempting my agent. At the end, Real deposited the 60 million and presented me as their new player with the number 10 in my back. I was scared that day, but soon I checked the advantages of being a Madridista. I never regretted coming to this club, which is the biggest. It was also a matter of prestige”.
Figo played for Real Madrid until 2005, when he moved to Inter Milan, the club where he would retire having won with Los Blancos two La Liga titles, one Champions League, one Intercontinental Cup, one Supercopa and one European Supercup.