Onze-Mondial: “To start off, a brief flash back to the Euro’s ½ final between France and Portugal in the overtime and that famous episode: in your opinion, was that a penalty or not?
Luis Figo: I have never seen the images of this action on video nor TV. Those days, and the days after, I did not have the possibility and frankly, it did not interest me to see them anymore. On the field, I had the sensation that it was not a penalty kick, as the ref in fact. (It was the assistant referee that signaled to Mr. Benko, the game’s ref that there just had been a hand ball in the box by Abel Xavier). Maybe by looking at the video of it today, with a rational mind, my opinion would be different but for the time being, I still keep my original impression that it was not a PK.
Onze-Mondial: After the decision of the ref, the behavior of the Portuguese players was not very fair-play…
Luis Figo: I think that our reaction, the one of the players, is totally comprehensible. You have to put yourself in the context of the moment and imagine all the stress and the importance of the moment in which it occurred. If this had happened in the French penalty box, I think that their reaction would have been the same. While analyzing the events after some time, I admit and recognize that we should have been less excessive in our violent reaction after the call.
Onze-Mondial: Yourself, who are so calm, you threw away your jersey and you showed a lot of anger…
Luis Figo: It was above all a feeling of revolt and impotence. In a moment as important, in overtime of a European Championship, you see going in smoke all you’ve done for months and years of sacrifices to get there, on a decision which appears to you to be unjust, all this in a fraction of a second. If this had happened in other circumstances, it would have been less difficult to swallow.
Onze-Mondial: In this match, none of the 2 teams managed to impose their game and to play at their real potential…
Luis Figo: Indeed. Nor Portugal neither France did play this ½ finale at their best level. In these kinds of matches, there is a lot of anxiety, emotion, fear and mutual respect. All this makes it in a way that the players cannot express their talents at the maximum of their possibilities.
Onze-Mondial: Did you have the sensation that you (Portugal) could have won that game?
Luis Figo: When you get in the ½ final and that everything is decided on a 1 match, there is not a favorite. Even a team supposed weaker can win. We started well and we finished it badly. France, they dominated territorially and tactically while enjoying a bigger control of the ball and the play, but they did not had practically any clear occasions to score. And at the end, they ended up winning the game. That is football, always unpredictable.
Onze-Mondial: In opinion, does France deserve their European title?
Luis Figo: Champions always deserve their title. France had a fantastic tournament, despite not showing any sign of real and undisputable superiority in the ½ finale and finale. This team is lucky, this kind of luck that always faithfully accompany the great champions. The French team has a lot of talent, a team composed of players who have been together for a long time and that play for the best European clubs. It’s a real team made of brilliant individualities that form a great, solid and efficient collective group.
Onze-Mondial: Zidane and yourself, have been the best players of this Euro and at this end of year, both of you are nominated for the title of the best player of the year 2000…
Luis Figo: There’s a lot of players that realized a great season, that have won important titles and that would also easily deserve the title of the player of the year 2000. Being one of those players is great; I realize that I’ve had a great season be it in club than with my national team but my premier objective is to always and constantly improve.
Onze-Mondial: During the Euro, there were talks and rumors starting saying that you would end up in Lazio and at Real Madrid. Has this influenced your productivity in a negative or positive way?
Luis Figo: It is true that there were a lot of rumors, but I still managed to evacuate all this to keep my focus entirely on the Euro. This was what I had best to do for my team and me. But it’s clear that at certain moments, these situations can be harmful because they refer to your future, but I still managed to make abstraction of all this. When I enter the football field, I don’t think at of the offer of X or Y or at the number of Millions that I could earn in this or that club: I have only one thought: playing football as best as I can.
Onze-Mondial: Your transfer to Real Madrid, was that a personal choice or was it guided by your agent?
Luis Figo: People do not know the reasons for which I left Barcelona. Everyone is free to think or to write what they want. A lot of people have reacted based on what they’ve read or heard in the papers, but what was written in the papers was not always correct. In fact, the managers of Barça were perfectly aware of the Real’s offer. In the first place, my intention was simply to revalorize my contract in Barcelona compared to Real’s offer. They thought it was all a “bluff” or a trick from me which was absolutely wrong. I was taken for a liar when I’ve always been clear in that situation.
Onze-Mondial: The dialogue rapidly became impossible between the 2 parties (Figo and Barça)?
Louis Figo: Yes: at one point, there were no dialogue at all! Maybe, the Catalan managers were thinking that by behaving like that, I would just give up and stop. It was right during the elections of the presidency of the club (Barça). I tried to talk with the candidates, but they did not want to receive me and talk with me. They avoided the discussion and all type of dialogue. From this moment, I first thought of me, my future. When you really desire something, you do an effort to conserve it. Barça did not do that. If they did not try to keep me, it was maybe because there was an interest for them on that. Well what I can say is that, as far as I am concerned, the transfer to Real was not a matter of big bucks: those that pretend that I left for Real for the money are wrong!!! I am not a mercenary!
Onze-Mondial: At what point, did you take the decision of leaving Barça to Real?
Luis Figo: I spent a very difficult summer, with a terrible pressure. I took my decision at around mid-July, the day after the Real’s elections. I did not know Florentino Perez, the new president. He came to see me in Sardegna (Italy), where I was vacationing. And he managed to convince me.
Onze-Mondial: The preceding year, Real had already made sensation by signing Nicolas Anelka. The Madrid coach, Vincent del Bosque, has compared you 2 (Anelka and Figo) on the personality level and he said that the Frenchman was a “spoiled kid” whereas you, were, “ a true professional”.
Luis Figo: I already have a certain experience of the world of football and I know that you always have to show a great deal of professionalism, wherever you are. What matters, is your productivity. When you don’t have that productivity, when the coach or some of your teammates don’t appreciate you, it becomes very easy to get hit in the back and get fired.
Onze-Mondial: Leaving Barça for Real, has been considered in Catalonia as a betrayal. The love of the jersey does that not count for you?
Louis Figo: I have always had a great affection for the clubs I have played with. But despite these affinities, you can have some enormous deceptions. Sometimes, you feel that you are giving a lot to the club that wearing the jersey but in exchange, you are not getting as much back…
Onze-Mondial: You come from Barça weighing 410 Millions French Francs (almost $100 million US): that is quite a pressure to handle at Real…
Luis Figo: Maybe there is more pressure since I come from a rival club and that Real has disbursed a considerable amount of money for my transfer, but I am perfectly aware of my responsibilities. On the field, I do not think at all this at all, that is where I am the most at ease. After all, the pressure is the same in all the big clubs, where you have a permanent obligation to produce great results. Playing for these high profile teams force you to always obtain a maximum productivity on a constant basis.
Onze-Mondial: You are already getting along with Raul on the field very well…
Luis Figo: Yes but not only with him. Things gave been going smoothly since the beginning where I was extremely well received. From then, I only had one thing to do: play good football.
Onze-Mondial: Are you aware of the tremendous amount of money that Real had to disburse for you whereas in the meantime, they already have a monumental debt?
Luis Figo: I absolutely do not feel concerned by this kind of problem. I did not force anyone! Those that decided to spend that amount of money did it while being perfectly aware of it. The rest is not my business.
Onze-Mondial: Today, you are the most famous Portuguese player. Your popularity has now surpassed the legendary Eusebio…
Louis Figo: Football has changed since the times of Eusebio. I am the benefactor of a tremendous phenomenon of mediatisation, which cannot be compared with the one during Eusebio’s period. This is good for Portugal to have a new reference as the new generation myself included, have never seen Eusebio play.
Onze-Mondial: Are you planning to finish your career in Portugal?
Luis Figo: At this moment, in football, no one can make long-term projects. I had a dream: playing in England, as I love the spectacle and the ambiance over there. But, this has never been possible so far. However, even tough the end of my career seems to me, still far, it is true that I would love to end my career in Portugal.
Onze-Mondial: Euro 2004 will be held in Portugal. Is this not 4 years too late?
Luis Figo: It is clear that had the Euro 2000 been held in Portugal, we would have had other possibilities! But each thing in its time. Portugal’s team has lots of quality, which we have demonstrated during the last Euro and that we still continue to prove it in the 2002 World Cup qualifications. The qualification for this tournament is a highly important priority.
Onze-Mondial: You have been held 1-1 at home against Ireland, but you then immediately bounced back with a convincing win in Holland 2-0…
Luis Figo: Against Ireland, we played very good and we created a lot of chances whereas they have scored on their unique occasion and from a long-range shot. In Holland, everything went our way and we deservedly obtained a great victory. It was extremely important for us, but nothing is decided yet for the qualification. We should not lose our focus even one moment.
Onze-Mondial: How is your life in Madrid?
Louis Figo: It is pretty calm, fortunately. I just found a home, I’m with my wife and my daughter. Everything is fine!
Onze-Mondial: Do you talk football at home?
Louis Figo: No! My wife and my daughter can very well talk of other interesting topics. In fact, we avoid as much as possible to discuss football at home.
Onze-Mondial: What are your hobbies beside football?
Louis Figo: I really enjoy going to the beach. I have a house in the south of Portugal, at Algarve and I go there as often as I possibly can. I am also a big fan and collector of watches by Franck Muller. By the way, I am not a big fan of cars thus, I have never considered that they deserved a big investment…
Onze-Mondial: There are rumors saying that you have shares of a bank in Lisbonne (Portugal)?
Louis Figo: No, it is not true. There is indeed a bank that is sponsoring me and that uses my image. They offered me to become a shareholder of theirs in order to earn extra dividends, but for now, nothing has been finalized yet.
Onze-Mondial: However, you’re a smart investor in the stock-market?
Louis Figo: Yes and with limited risk. I do not see why I should take any risk!
Onze-Mondial: Do you own horses?
Louis Figo: No, this is my wife’s passion. She loves horses, but for now, we don’t own any. When we will go back to Portugal, maybe it will change.
Onze-Mondial: Art is your new passion?
Louis Figo: Yes, I’m really interested in arts, especially paintings and abstract art, even tough unfortunately I don’t go as often that I would have liked it to assist at expositions. I adore Picasso, Goya, Velasquez and other contemporaneous painters. I think that I will offer myself some paintings!