Talented playmaker

It is a fitting end to a remarkable career for Luis Figo, one of the modern greats, who has collected major trophies from the Spanish Primera Division, Serie A and appeared 127 times for Portugal, writes Chris Jacobsen.

It was only right that Portuguese playmaker Luis Figo would bow out of football at the very top. The former FIFA World Player of the Year decided to call time on a career spanning more than 20 years just hours after winning the Italian Serie A title with Inter Milan.

It was yet another piece of silverware to add to an illustrious CV and Figo, 36, feels there is no better time to hang up his boots. “I finish in the best possible way,” Figo told Portuguese press. “I will no longer play at a high level.”

It is a fitting end to a remarkable career for one of the modern greats who has collected major trophies from the Spanish Primera Division, Serie A and appeared 127 times for Portugal.

An integral part of the country’s ‘Golden Generation’ Figo began his career at Sporting Lisbon aged 17. After making 137 appearances for the Portuguese club and winning his first international cap, attention from across Europe began to grow around the extraordinarily talented playmaker.

He was touted for a move to Italy with Juventus and Parma interested in his signature. But after it was reported that Figo had agreed to join both sides there was a transfer embargo implemented preventing either club from signing him.

This left the door open for a move to Barcelona where manager Johan Cruyff was virtually unchallenged in his pursuit of the highly-rated youngster. Cruyff completed the signing of Figo for a fee of GBP2.25 million in 1995, something of a bargain when you take into account the world-record fee that Real Madrid would later pay for his services in 2000.

In the 172 appearances for the Catalans, Figo netted 30 times and helped Barcelona to the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1997 and also secured successive La Liga titles.

Five years after joining Barca, Figo did the unthinkable and switched allegiances to join fierce-rival Real Madrid for around GBP38 million. The move sent shockwaves around the world and his return to the Nou Camp in the colours of Madrid culminated in a tirade of abuse from the Barca faithful.

The winger was showered with objects every time he went to take a corner or get within throwing distance of the Barca home fans, and at one point he was confronted with a pig’s head which was hurled from the stands.

After Figo’s contract expired at Real Madrid in 2005 he moved on a free transfer to Inter Milan, where he has won four league titles — three of which came under manager Roberto Mancini.

A bust-up between Figo and Mancini looked to have brought an end to the veteran’s career but the arrival of fellow countryman Jose Mourinho in 2008 gave him fresh impetus and Figo played a key role over the last season.

Inter clinched its fourth consecutive title by virtue of AC Milan’s defeat at the hands of Udinese and Figo didn’t waste anytime to announce his retirement. Although the midfield maestro has refused to completely rule out a return to football, he did say it would be very unlikely.

He said: “I will most likely not accept any offer. Only if something special emerges and it is from outside of Europe. But it is not likely.”

Exactly what his future holds remains to be seen, but Figo’s legacy will certainly live on and he will be greatly missed.

Figo’s decision to make the switch from Barcelona to rival Real cannot have been an easy one. He was, no doubt, all too aware of the emotion this would stir in the fans that had once idolised him and he came in for much criticism and abuse from the disgruntled Barca fans.

Figo is married to Swedish model Helen Svedin and they have had three children together: Daniela, Martina, and Stella.

Figo likes his cars and, alongside Carlos Queiroz, was a joint seat holder for A1 Grand Prix team Portugal during the 2005-06 season.

Factfile Name: Luis Figo Position: Midfielder Club: Inter Milan D.O.B.: November 4, 1972 Portugal caps: 127 Portugal goals: 32 Portugal debut: October 1991 v Luxembourg Moment to remember

Inter Milan’s clash with Lazio earlier this season was arguably the most recent of many memorable highlights. Figo’s never-say-die attitude and the tireless endeavour went a long way towards contributing to a 2-0 win that proved decisive in the Serie A title race.

Moment to forget

The clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Nou Camp in November 2002 showed just how bitter Barca fans were about Figo’s exit to their arch-rivals. The winger was jeered and whistled whenever he went near the ball and subjected to missiles from the crowd during the second-half — including having a pig’s head thrown at him as he went to take a corner. The 0-0 draw was suspended for 13 minutes by the referee, who took the players off because of fears for their safety.

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