Interview of Luis Figo, just after receiving the Ballon d’Or 2000 by France Football’s journalist Vincent Machenaud and published in France Football’s issue of December 19th, 2000. We thank "San_Siro_1" for translation!!!
France Football: “Luis, how do you feel in front of that Ballon d’Or?
Luis Figo: “I am very, very happy! It’s a trophy which has an enormous prestige and weigh. I think that it’s the dream and goal of every footballers to be distinguished by a Ballon d’Or, but I realize that only the very best have won it, and this can only make me more proud.
France Football: To whom are you dedicating your Ballon d’Or?
Luis Figo: To my wife, Hellen Swedin and to my daughter Daniela, who are suffering my absences and sometimes, my reactions. To all my friends who have always been around me, to my teammates, be it in Barça than Real or the Portugal National Team, because without their support, I would have certainly not won this Ballon d’Or and to all the Portuguese worldwide.
France Football : Between us, for who would you have voted ?
Luis Figo : You want me to answer you sincerely ? For myself, probably, but this is very subjectif…
France Football : What does this kind of « recompense » mean to you?
Luis Figo: Personally, it’s the acknowledgment of the work I’ve accomplished during the past year and all the efforts and sacrifices that I have been making since I’ve been playing football as a professional. Being able to have my name besides those of the prestigious players who won it before me, is a very good reason to be extremely proud!
France Football: Which can also be a nice little surprise?
Luis Figo: When you’re among the 50 nominated players, you believe that you can win it. That’s what everyone of the 50 nominated are hoping for, it’s logical and normal. However, being elected among all these extraordinary players, it’s in a way a very pleasant surprise, even tough I know that on the individual basis, things have been quite well for me this past year.
France Football: To a point to be crowned?
Luis Figo: If another player would have won it, I would have accepted defeat because I am sure that this trophy would have been awarded to a player of great quality who had realized a wonderful season.
France Football: This player could have been Zidane, whom you’re ahead of by a very small margin? Luis Figo: Absolutely! Zidane is a breath-taking player! He is among the very best in the world with a crucial influence on all the teams he has been playing for. If France has won the last 2 major titles of these last years, it is mainly thanks to him. His presence was a key factor of these triumphs.
France Football: Do you believe that the display of anger he showed against Kientz, the Hambourg SV player in the Champions League made him lose this Ballon d’Or?
Luis Figo: I have no idea. I’m not the person to answer that question.
France Football: Did you watch the images?
Luis Figo: No, I have only read the newspapers. I think that it was an instinctive act. It’s not normal that Zidane reacted that way. Probably, he was himself the victim of an incident and that is what might have caused this spontaneous and instinctive act, in the heat of the action. In my opinion, it’s an irrational act that you only realize the importance the next minute that follows and that you regret right away.
France Football: Has this ever happened to you?
Luis Figo: No but I perfectly understand what happened to Zidane, that I consider as a very disciplined , correct and fair-play player. Sometimes, during a match, you can easily lose control and commit this kind of errors. So far, I have never reacted that way and I hope I never will. All in all, Zidane is the only person who can really say what happened.
France Football: What can you add on the players that are following you in the standings of this year’s Ballon d’Or?
Luis Figo: I am not very surprised to see them there. Schevchenko but also Henry, whom has largely proved and demonstrated during the Euro, are 2 fantastic strikers, extremely fast and lethal in the penalty box.
France Football: Raul, is only 9th. Does this surprise you?
Luis Figo: Yes, a little bit in a way that he won the Champions League with Real during which he was often vital with lots of crucial goals. I think that he is being penalized for the Euro during which Spain did not shine a lot.
France Football: A little word about your friend Rivaldo, who is 5th…
Luis Figo: I am sure that he would have loved winning it this year too and he could have well done it, too as he is always an extremely decisive player. But he will be very happy to learn that I am the laureate! We’ve had so many good and positive moments together in Barça!
France Football: Do you think that you could have won the Ballon d’Or earlier in your career or do you have the feeling that you just had your best season?
Luis Figo: The previous seasons, I was regular, even tough I had highs and lows. If I did not have the joy to win titles in the past, I have always had my objective to be to continue to work hard to become better and above all, to help my teammates and teams to obtain good results. One should not forget that this kind of awards (Ballon d’Or), crowns an individual, whereas as strange as it can be, football is a collective sport. However, the year 2000 has surely been my most complete year.
France Football: Do you think that it is your performances in club (Barça and Real) or with the Portugal National Team that have made votes go in your favor?
Luis Figo: I have the impression that our fantastic journey at the Euro with the National team has grandly impressed the spirits. At the start of the competition, we were not among the favorites, and at the end, we are eliminated at the doors of the finale. As far as I’m concerned, I believe I did well in this competition and being present. Even tough with Barcelona, where we also reached the ½ finals of the Champions League, the Euro has been highly important as it is a tournament where the importance, prestige, dimension and mediatisation are stronger than the Champions League.
France Football: Finally, this Euro remains as a good or bad souvenir?
Luis Figo: A good. If before the tournament, we would have been told that Portugal would be going so far, very few people would have believed it and that is why we can be very proud of what we achieved there last summer.
France Football: No particular deception?
Luis Figo: Yes, I also have a certain frustration on the way we were eliminated. If we would have lost 2-0 or 3-0 against France, then maybe it would have been different…
France Football: Do you still feel that the penalty conceded by the ref was unjust?
Luis Figo: On the field, I took it like a real injustice. And I would also add, that the ref, who was at this instant of the match, very near me, did not realize right away that he should whistle a penalty. Seeing all the efforts and sacrifices that have done, being nullified and all our hopes, vaporized in a fraction of seconds, was horrible, to say the least. But, it seems that on TV, things are seen differently and despite the fact that it hurts, one has to accept it.
France Football: Was France the best team of the tournament?
Luis Figo: Whoever wins, deserves to win! The French team was lucky, but luck is a crucial factor that always accompanies champions. France had an excellent Euro. Along Holland and Portugal, France was the team, which produced the best football, way better than the Italians.
France Football: How do you explain that Portugal, despite an exceptionally talented generation, has not confirmed its numerous youth world championship titles?
Luis Figo: We have always had difficulties in the qualification phase where we were often eliminated in extremis. However, when we did manage to qualify, we did pretty well, be it in England during the Euro 96 or at the Euro 2000. Portugal has had many bad and negative periods on all aspect and consequently, the National team suffered the consequences despite the quality of the players. There was like a divorce around the National team because of a strong “clubismo”, a really big and harmful rivalry between the Portuguese clubs. That was dreadful. Today, it’s better and there’s a greater unity among the players of different Portuguese teams and behind the National team.
France Football: What was missing or lacking for the Portuguese football to keep all its promises in terms of high expectations after the numerous youth triumphs?
Luis Figo: If we obtained such good results in the youth categories, it’s because we took advantage of an excellent job done at the base, be it in the clubs or at the Federation. We have worked together for several years, and that is what made us win a lot of titles. But after, at the professional level, and it’s a well-known fact that in Portugal, the same type of organization which has been at the base of the youth successes, doesn’t exist and therefore, the quality of the players didn’t suffice.
France Football: So, it was not the players’ fault?
Luis Figo: One should not say that; it is after all the players who are on the field. At certain moments, we players, have had our share of responsibility in those failures. But the most harmful, it is that we have dearly paid the image given by Portuguese football, which was in the midst of its endless problems and scandals. This has also an influence. A very bad one.
France Football: Do you have the impression that Portugal has been “treated differently” when they were playing against the big nations?
Luis Figo: It is clear; during the crucial moments, we do not have the power and the potency of the more prestigious nations. It is quite clear and obvious.
France Football: Do you remember the name of the ref who sent off Rui Costa in a crucial match in Germany, during the World Cup 98 Qualifications stage?
(15 minutes from the end of a decisive game, Mr. Batta gave a 2nd yellow card to Rui Costa, who was leaving the field to be replaced. The ref judged that the Portuguese player was deliberately trying to waste time, while his team was leading 1-0. Reduced to 10 men, Portugal could not manage to avoid a late German equalization, which meant no World Cup 98 for Portugal.)
Luis Figo: Yes. Batta. A French ref, no?
France Football: Indeed. In your opinion, do think that his decision of sending Rui Costa off was unjustified?
Luis Figo: Totally unjustified, you mean! There is no rule saying one should leave the field running or sprinting. The player must leave the field and that is it. This is the kind of decisions, which were not favorable to us, but one must accept it with dignity.
France Football: Are you hoping to be once again, protagonists of the coming World Cup?
Luis Figo: Before thinking that, we must first get there! And this will not be easy as we are in a tough group with Holland and Eire. So far, things have gone our way, but since there will be only one team which will directly qualify, it’s far from being done. To qualify to a World Cup is much more difficult in Europe than it is in South America, where they’re assured of being 4, while there is less teams at the beginning.
France Football: Qualifying to the World Cup will only depend on your performances? (Portugal’s performances).
Luis Figo: Exactly! We do not depend on others; we have our own faith in our hands. That is what is needed.
France Football: A career without a participation in a World Cup, would be like a huge hole?
Luis Figo: I cannot imagine it! I know that it happened to a lot of players, but it will be a very negative point, should it happen, God forbade it! That is why I sincerely hope to be in Japan, because it is a unique event in the career of a player. A pinnacle. Everybody dreams about it, it is the ultimate goal and ambition of all footballers. There is nothing bigger and more important.
France Football: Let us talk now about Barça…
Luis Figo: …..(Silence).
France Football: Frankly, no one was expecting you to leave Barcelona.
Luis Figo: This has surprised a lot of people and it’s quite logical…
France Football: Why did you leave?
Luis Figo: The principal reason is that I had received propositions which offered me better and more advantageous conditions than those I had in Barcelona, and moreover, these clubs were ready to pay my transfer clause-out. I have naturally informed the Barça’s president of that time of these offers and he answered me that he would not change my situation. From there, I took the decision that I had to take.
France Football: Is it only for an economical reason that you have left?
Luis Figo: No, not only…well, yes, at the beginning of the issue, with the valorization of my contract. It is normal; I had spent 5 years at Barça. So, if I am loved the way they pretend it, if they want me, then they need to prove it. Other clubs wanted me for my footballer qualities and for what I represented. And I stayed in Barcelona for 5 years while always giving all I could, doing always the maximum to help my team. I believed, at least at the beginning, that those people would be demonstrating that they wanted me and were ready to do the necessary efforts to keep me. That’s is why I have immediately communicated with the Barça management telling them: “there’s this, that and this…” I wished only one thing: that we talk and find an agreement. But they did not tell me anything and did not wanted to start the smallest dialogue and I have logically opted for another solution. After, the affair has simply followed its path, and if I am here today, it is for other reasons than those purely economic.
France Football: You perfectly knew what you were exposing yourself at, by signing for Real Madrid?
Luis Figo: Yes, I did not ignore that this decision would cause a few shocking waves. I perfectly knew what would result out this, but I’ve always been ready to face it and assume my responsibilities and their consequences. Now, I have to remind that as early as early as last season, when Barça was eliminated by Valencia in Champions League, I informed the necessary people (Barça management). I absolutely did not hide anything about this matter, from the beginning to the end of this issue. I have always been clear, even crystal clear. So, if they did not want to fix this matter, if they did not judge it necessary to revalorize my contract and my conditions as I was hoping and requesting, I have nothing to be blamed for. I am totally assuming my choices and everyone must assume their share of responsibilities.
France Football: Did you want to stay in Barcelona?
Luis Figo: I did not have any reason to leave and change club! I have only examined the situation as it was being really presented to me. In those conditions, I have to think of my family and me. However, this is not the reason why I ended up in Real. Once again, it is the lack of dialogue that has generated everything, and has accelerated the rhythm of the events.
France Football: Are you earning as much as it’s believed?
Luis Figo: …. (Silence).
France Football: Does that bother you to talk about this?
Luis Figo: No, I am ready to talk about money, but not how much I make! That is personal!
France Football: Rumors are saying that it is an astronomical sum.
Luis Figo: They are not saying the truth; the numbers advanced and speculated in the press are never true. If it is true, I am making more! No, I am kidding! (Big laugh by Figo…).
France Football: Almost $100Million dollars for your transfer, is that a record that makes you proud?
Luis Figo: That’s the current market. In my first contract, my clause was 1000 millions Pesetas (around 7 Million US $) and I was thinking: “ Who will be able to pay such an amount?”. Then, there’s been a boom and it doesn’t stop anymore, to such a point that today 1 000 Million Pesetas, it’s almost nothing whatsoever! That’s how football is now. No limit! It is true that this is ridiculous and doesn’t make any sense. I think that limits must be fixed in terms of contracts as we have now arrived to a point where what is surrounding football is not normal. We see that with European Union who wants to get make disappear transfers.
France Football: And the players’ salary, should we also limit them?
Luis Figo: No, we should touch at what’s going on at the individual level. Look at what’s being practiced in the NBA which considerably higher. Why wouldn’t it be the same thing with football if it generates more revenue with the sponsors and television?
France Football: Does that hurt to hear being treated of “mercenary”? Do you feel your image is in a way tarnished?
Luis Figo: No, one can say whatever they like; it will nor bother me nor affect me. Sincerely, I don’t care as I don’t believe to be what people are saying.
France Football: Your comeback to the Nou Camp, was that a horrible day?
Luis Figo: It was especially difficult but it was above all a unique experience, even very enriching, something that I will never forget. I think that no artist, no athlete has ever had to face such ambiance and atmosphere, and received such a treatment that I had that day. 100 000 people or I don’t know exactly how many, who are literally in fury against you, I strongly believe that I should be listed now in the World Guinness book of records. One should propose it to the Guinness book, don’t you think?
France Football: To show so much intensity in their hate towards you, the Catalan fans they must have loved you exceptionally passionately, don’t you think?
Luis Figo: Maybe, but it’s mainly due to the press campaign done by the local press that has lead the fans to react so violently. The Barcelona papers did not lead a normal campaign. It was something deliberately planned and premeditated. They did all they could to have the public treat me, the way they did. Needless to mention that the security was not assured, which was preventing me from taking the corners.
France Football: Were you afraid during the game?
Luis Figo: No. The only thing that I could have feared was that something “extra-football” could have happened to me, and then, who would have been responsible for that? Football? No! No, in football, on the field, there is no this kind of “free-violence”, that can have very negative and harmful consequences. Personally, fortunately, as of today, I have never seen it.
France Football: The testimonials of affection of your former teammates, at the end of the game must have sheered you up?
Luis Figo: I was not surprised! During 5 years, I have had the best relations with them. During 90 minutes, every one did his job, and then at the end of the match ended, the human relationships have naturally come back. It is one of the positive aspects of football, the friendship that you build, along with your friends, stay all the time.
France Football: You have a lot of friends in the world of football?
Luis Figo: Enough, and that is the most important!
France Football: Any in Catalonia?
Luis Figo: Of course, within the club as well as outside of it. Friendship does not change just because you have changed side!
France Football: Has your transfer changed you? Did it make you see things differently?
Louis Figo: Yes. This experience has opened my eyes. In the difficult moments, you realize what is going on. You see who are your true friends and who are pseudo-friends. I realized that I was wrong on some people.
France Football: Since then, are you not more cautious and alert?
Luis Figo: It is a fact that now, even tough I am more cautious about my entourage, but in the same time, I have always been the same. Very tranquil, calm and serene, while trying to do my job as best as I can. By coming to Madrid, I simply had to adapt myself to a new life-style, a new city, a new club, create new friendships…
France Football: Has this cost you such a big efforts?
Luis Figo: At the beginning, it was not that easy, especially since my family and I had to live a good amount of time, in a hotel. But after a month, it was better and today I’m happy here. Even very happy!
France Football: Does Madrid seduce you as much as Barcelona?
Luis Figo: We cannot compare the 2 cities. In Barcelona, there is an incomparable quality of life. Madrid is a more “mobile” city. I have a habit of saying there is a good and bad side everywhere and that only the positive aspects must be kept and remembered. The most important thing is to be able to adapt yourself well and quickly.
France Football: Are the fans of Real behaving the same way towards you as the Barça ones were?
Luis Figo: Here, I am leading a normal life, without any problem. When I have to go out, I go out. I have no reason to complain about the people in Barcelona: over there, I have had some extraordinarily wonderful moments, very strong memories and I have always been respected. Not just because of the incident of the Nou Camp last October that I will change my mind!
France Football: Is there a big difference between the style of game of Real and Barça?
Luis Figo: The tactical systems are not the same. In Barcelona, I was more on the wing whereas here, at Real, I am more centered toward the midfield.
France Football: You have more freedom with the Merengue jersey?
Luis Figo: At this level, no, it is about the same things. The little difference is that in Barcelona, we were playing with an interior right midfield, whereas here in Madrid, we play with 2 midfielders behind. I was then positioned more advanced at Barça, but I am feeling totally at ease with my new role at my new team.
France Football: Do you feel that your team has found its “equilibrium” and balance?
Luis Figo: There is always room to improve the game, and I think that we have still have not seen the best Real yet. We have reached a good level, but what is needed is to be able to keep the same level for several games in a row. These progresses, I am sure that we will accomplish them.
France Football: The lost I the final of the Intercontinental Cup has brought a lot of criticism over your team. Were they justified?
Luis Figo: There is something that I do not understand; when Real wins, it is because the opponent was weak; but when we lose, it is because we suck! How can one say that it is always our fault? I find that our performances are not given the credits they should be given. Beating Anderlecht the way we did (4-1) at the beginning of the month, that is a great performance! That team finished first of their group in front of Man U, PSV Eindhoven and Kiev and showed that they are a very good and tough team!
France Football: Is that because the public is too demanding towards Real?
Luis Figo: One has to be more measured in critics. Not only we play good and attractive football but also we are still in good shape on all competitions, which is not the case for all the teams! In all the competitions that we participate, we have the merit of being considered as the favorites. Now, people have to now that we cannot be at the top for the whole season. It is simple impossible!
France Football: But Real has recently lost the international finales that they played against Galatasaray and Boca.
Luis Figo: This we can’t deny it. But these 2 lost matches, are almost our only losses so far. Losing in 6 minutes against Boca, it is regrettable. In my opinion, the Argentine players are players of high experience and quality, but after having taken the lead quickly, they did not produce an attractive style to cry for, nor did they produce anything. We, at the other hand, we went attacking maybe too fast, but at least, we tried to produce some nice movements and show some game. Ultimately, I am obviously very deceived for having left the title slip away as I came to Real to win important titles. And after all, after such a long trip, for nothing that is what really is frustrating and hurtful!
France Football: Why does Real seem to be more inspired in the Champions League than in la Liga?
Luis Figo: When we enter in the field, it is always to win. But in la Liga, you can sometime think that your opponent is a little bit weaker, and that therefore the match may be easier. In most of the cases, it is a mistake. Also, one has to know that these teams have a full week to prepare the match against us, whereas we only have 2 or 3 days.
France Football: We have the impression that for Real, the Champions League is more important. True or false?
Luis Figo: Historically, Real Madrid has always been more attached to the European Cup. And the Champions League is most important at the club level, but it is all the titles that give you the prestige. When you win, it is because you have been the stronger, and that is the reality. I will stay in the world of professional football for as long as I will have that motivation to win titles and all the matches I will play.
France Football: Do you consider your C.V. to be “filled” as much as you would like it?
Luis Figo: Oh no! I deserve more! Seriously, in certain occasions, be it with my clubs than my national team, I believe that we could have gone further. Now, I am very far from being “full” and I hope I will make it up in the years to come. It is quite normal that you always want and desire more than you have, non?