LUIS FIGO EXCLUSIVE

Figo talks exclusively to AS: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Cristiano, Pep

The Portuguese legend spoke exclusively to AS about Cristiano, Pep, Sporting and leaving Barcelona for the ‘Galácticos’ of Real Madrid.

With Real Madrid kicking off their Champions League campaign against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday night, AS sat down with Luis Figo, a legend at both clubs, to discuss his controversial career, his memories of his time at both Barcelona and Real Madrid and his impressions of Cristiano.

Sporting Lisbon, Real Madrid's first Champions League rivals

How do you remember your time at Sporting?

I have the best possible memories of my time at Sporting. I was there from the age of 12 until I turned 22. I learned everything there. I learned from Bobby Robson and Carlos Queiroz and even played with Frank Rijkaard.

Figo played for Sporting Lisbon until 1995 when he signed for Barcelona

“It’s always been a fantastic breeding ground for young talent. It’s comparable to Ajax in that sense, just with another footballing philosophy. It’s a club that produces great players. When I was there the big one was Paulo Futre. Then there was me, Simao, Cristiano, Nani.”

Cristiano and Eusebio

You mention Cristiano. What do you think of him?

“I admire him and I enjoy seeing his achievements. He just gets better every year. He’s making football history.”

Two Portuguese footballing legends: Eusebio and Cristiano

How does he compare to Eusebio?

“I never saw him play. But for everything he stands for, for the love he showed me, his friendship and his advice, I’d put Eusebio at number one. Everyone will say that I say that for this reason or that reason but ultimately it’s just about respect. Everyone makes history in their own time.”

From Portugal to Barcelona

After leaving Sporting you joined Barcelona. What memories do you have of your spell there?

You’ll never hear me speak badly of Barcelona, except perhaps about the way I left. It was a fantastic time for me, a period of my career that really helped me to grow as a player.

“I really enjoyed my five years there, I don’t regret anything. It allowed me to be the professional I wanted to be and I only have good things to say. I was very, very lucky to meet Johan Cruyff.”

A star at Barcelona, Figo played with Pep Guardiola before leaving controversially for the Santiago Bernabéu in 2000

How does Guardiola compare to Cruyff?

“Like Cruyff, Guardiola was a super perfectionist. Even in his playing days you could tell he liked to be in charge. He just loved to win.”

The ‘Galacticos’ era at Real Madrid

Why did you choose to sign for Madrid?

“It's all in the past, but it all began with a question of recognition. I came to Madrid to win more titles and for prestige. And on better financial terms, of course."

How did you get on with your coach, Vicente Del Bosque?

“I was very lucky that Del Bosque was the manager when I arrived. He was the perfect balancing force; he knew how to deal with things better than anyone. We got on really well. He’s a good person and was perfect for Madrid because he knew the club inside out."

Figo's transfer marked the start of the 'Galácticos' era in Madrid and was soon joined by global stars such as Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham.

Was there any jealousy between the Galácticos?

There wasn’t any jealousy between the players. If there had been we wouldn’t have worked well as a team. I got on particularly well with Raúl and Morientes; that guy was an absolute gem. And Hierro! I always used to shout at him because he never passed me the ball!”

Where did it start to go wrong for Florentino?

Florentino began to prioritize the commercial side of the game over the sporting side when we began doing our pre-seasons abroad. It’s what they all do now but it didn’t help us.

Has your old teammate Zidane surprised you as manager?

“Zidane has done a tremendous job. It’s not easy to take over a team mid-season and to win the Champions League. He’s done better than anyone else could have done.”

Did you feel let down by the way you left the club?

“For me it’s all in the past, but obviously I would have liked to have left the club differently. I know why I left. I wasn’t playing, and I know why I wasn’t playing. From that moment on I just wanted to be happy and I went in search of that. I could have just sat and got paid not to play, but I wanted to show that I could still perform at a high level.

“I was the first [of the Galácticos] in, so logically I was going to be the first out. It was destiny.”