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The Story of Luis Figo: Barcelona Hero Turned Public Enemy #1 After Joining Real Madrid

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Even Neymar’s transfer to PSG would pale in comparison

Luis Figo of Barcelona...

Neymar has made Barcelona fans angry. He’s even made his teammates angry, according to Diario SPORT. His imminent transfer to Paris Saint-Germain has been carried out in such a way that people are sick of him.

But all of that doesn’t compare to Luis Figo’s transfer in July 2000. He was Barcelona’s best player, and arguably, the best in the world at the time. And he left for Real Madrid.

In the past, players had moved between Real Madrid and Barcelona, and it wasn’t that big of a deal. For example, in 1994, Michael Laudrup went from Barça to Madrid. Barcelona fans still like him.

To understand why Figo’s situation was different, we have to look at how it went down.

Figo had helped the Blaugrana win successive La Liga titles, two Copa del Reys and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, among other trophies. He wasn’t just a star for Barça, he was the star.

But when Figo returned to the Camp Nou in a white shirt, it was chaos. Fans threw objects at the player, most famously, a pig’s head. The hate for him would be eternal. Why?

It started with a secret pre-contract agreement brokered between Figo and a man named Florentino Perez. At the time, Perez was just a man trying to win the Real Madrid presidency.

Perez was seen as a longshot to win the presidency over incumbent Lorenzo Sanz. Sanz had helped Real win the European Cup in 1998 and 2000. He figured fans were satisfied with his work. What he didn’t count on was that the club’s financial health would become a source of controversy, and that Perez had an ace up his sleeve in the form of a mega-signing.

At the same time, Barcelona were holding the elections that would eventually result in Joan Gaspart winning the presidency. Figo was looking for a new contract but was told to wait until after the elections to get a seal of approval from the new president.

Perez contacted Figo’s agent, Jose Veia, with an interesting proposal. If Perez won the presidency, Figo would join Real. If Perez lost, Figo would get 1 million euro. Veia and Paulo Futre, the former Atletico Madrid player who acted as an intermediary, saw this as essentially, free money. No way would Perez win, right?

What, perhaps, they didn’t expect was for Perez to campaign on the promise that he already had Figo signed up. Real Madrid fans were ecstatic at the thought.

Figo told his teammates not to worry, that he was not leaving. He was pictured in SPORT holding a Barcelona shirt, saying he wasn’t going. He assured fans no pre-contract existed. Sanz laughed that Perez might now claim he had signed supermodel Claudia Schiffer.

But it was all true. Perez won. Madrid triggered Figo’s release clause of 62 million euro, the most expensive player to date.

What wasn’t clear was how much Figo approved of the deal. But there was a penalty if Figo didn’t go through with it. If Perez won, they had agreed to pay a stunning 30 million euro penalty if the transfer wasn’t completed.

Apparently, Figo went to newly elected Gaspart’s office to plead for Barcelona to pay the penalty to keep him. But Gaspart didn’t want to do it. Pay that much money to Real Madrid just to keep a player, not get a new one? It was unthinkable.

It went through, despite its seeming impossibility, for a world record fee. Figo stayed for 5 years at Madrid, winning La Liga twice and the Champions League once. Cules branded him a traitor and a liar. He was never forgiven.

A top star, a greedy agent, false assurances, a release clause triggered at a world-record price... does it sound familiar?