This week (as with any week) there was only one Portuguese, Real Madrid Galactico, and Sporting Lisbon academy graduate hogging the headlines.
As Cristiano Ronaldo ruthlessly dispatched his 21st goal of the season, his predecessor, one of his childhood idols, and former international captain, Luis Figo celebrated his 41st birthday.
The crown jewel of a royal collection of Portuguese talents who emerged in the 1990s, Figo went on to score 32 goals and earn 127 caps (a national record) and captained the side that contained Messrs Rui Costa and Nuno Gomes. Schooled at the same Sporting CP academy that would later churn out fellow wingers Ronaldo and Nani, it was following his move to Barcelona in 1995 that he entered the global consciousness.
With the number seven adorned on his back, the skilful winger aided Barcelona, post-dream team, in continuing their wave of success, bringing two La Liga titles and an UEFA Cup Winners Cup amongst other trophies.
Ultimately, Figo’s legacy in the game will perhaps be as much about his controversial move to Barcelona’s rivals Real Madrid in the year 2000.
The £37million fee broke world records; his defection to Los Blancos broke Catalan hearts, earning him a wave of abuse in the next Clasico (which of course included a pig’s head being launched onto the field of play).
In many ways, he had the last laugh, beating future teammates Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham to the 2000 Ballon D’Or and 2001 FIFA World Player of The Year Awards. Personal glory was also allied with Champions League success in 2002 and two La Ligas, before he ended his career at Inter Milan, retiring in 2009.
As only one of a host of superstars during the first Galactico era at Real Madrid, he can perhaps only be defined as a legend for the Portuguese national team.
As much as Greece’s victorious Euro 2004 was a victory for the underdog, it was also a tragedy that prevented the crowning glory of one the finest players active at the turn of the century. To lead Portugal to its first major championship, in his home town would have been fitting. Instead that runner-up finish was as close as he came to translating the success in the 1991 U-20 World Cup and 1989 UEFA U-17 Championship into senior honours.
Portugal’s first king was Eusebio; its current is Ronaldo. In between, there was a magical winger, named Luis Figo.
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