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Luis Figo to Real Madrid: The dirty politics behind the world record move

Real Madrid CF Press Conference
Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez
CONTRIBUTOR

How it all began

In 2000, Real Madrid were all set to have presidential elections and having won the Champions league 2 times in preceding 3 seasons, then club President Lorenzo Sanz looked certain to win the elections.

Florentino Pérez, a real estate tycoon running for presidential elections for the second time after losing previously by 699 votes to Ramon Mendoza in 1995, needed something miraculous to win. What did he do? Well, he planned on signing the player who Real Madrid fans wanted the most at the time; Luis Figo.

Figo, who was the symbol of Barcelona at the time and was on route to the Ballon d'Or. He was exactly the trump card Florentino Pérez needed to win.

Luis Figo
Luis Figo playing for Barcelona

The deal with Luis Figo

Florentino Pérez, the richest man in Spain approached Figo's agent with a deal which was too good to be turned down. Pérez offered £1.6 million to Figo just to sign a contract which stated that he would sign for Real Madrid if Pérez won the presidential elections and if he lost, Figo could keep the money.

Luis Figo and his agent saw this as an easy money opportunity and wanted to use it as leverage to get a better contract at Barcelona because Figo didn't exactly want to leave. At the time, Pérez little chance of winning the elections, so Figo had nothing to lose.

Laureus KickOffForGood Charity Match
Luis Figo

Rumour mills and accusations

When the deal went public, all hell broke loose. Luis Figo, thinking that he would not have to move, denied the whole thing and even stated that 'I am not mad to do something like that'. He claimed that Florentino Pérez was fabricating the story and assured Barcelona fans that he would remain at Camp Nou the following season.

Lorenzo Sanz, just like others, dismissed this news as a publicity stunt but Pérez pledged it was true and revealed if he wins and Figo doesn't sign, all the Real Madrid members would go to the Bernabeau for free in the following campaign. He made such a statement on the back of the clause which was inserted in Figo's contract stating Figo would pay £19 million as compensation if he did not sign for Real Madrid.

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Luis Figo being unveiled as a Real Madrid player

Florentino Pérez's victory

Florentino Pérez, to everyone's surprise, won the club elections. Luis Figo's buyout clause was then set at a world record fee of £38 million but for this deal, it was a bargain.

Barcelona had club elections of their own won by former director Juan Gaspart who was left with only one choice; to pay their most hated rivals the equivalent of fifth highest transfer fee at the time for their own player.

Juan Gaspart stated, 'I couldn't do it! pay Real Madrid fans to watch them every week, I would die instead.'

Figo was later presented to the public with his jersey handed over by Alfredo Di Stefano.

Enter
Fans at Camp Nou after the controversial move

Reaction

Luis Figo was one of the very few players at Barcelona who was adored by fans in a way like very few have been. He was their best player and watching him depart to their biggest rivals Real Madrid angered the fans.

The infamous pig head incident happened when Figo went to Camp Nou for the first time as a Real Madrid player. There are very few players who have seen the wrath of the fans to such extremes.

After what happened with Figo, the world was made aware of players' lust for money and the ugly deals which happened behind the curtains. What Florentino Pérez did was a total business master class but one can't deny that it did affect the harmony of football.

The increasing influence of businessmen taking over clubs is depleting the loyalty and the spirit which we saw in the players of the yore. This move just marked the beginning of football being overshadowed by business.

There is no denying that take overs has transformed some clubs into the powerhouse sides overnight but it's also destroying the morals as several football experts and managers have expressed their concerns.


Edited by Amit Mishra
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