Real Madrid and Barcelona are hailed as two of the most successful clubs in world football. The two clubs are revered globally not just for their trophy haul, but also for the rich history and the players who have represented them over the years.
However, when Luis Figo sealed a controversial switch from Barcelona to Real Madrid in 2000, all hell broke loose between the two great rivals.
Widely regarded as the best player in the world at the time, Figo's release clause was triggered by Florentino Perez. The Spaniard is Real Madrid's club president currently, but he was one of the candidates running for the presidential elections at the time.
Upon winning the elections, Perez wanted to make a statement signing to make Real Madrid known worldwide once again. Despite Figo's association with Barcelona, the Real Madrid president showed no hesitation in attempting the audacious transfer.
Figo's unexpected Real Madrid move
After Real Madrid met his €62 million release clause, which was a world-record fee at the time, Figo was unveiled as a Real Madrid player in July 2000. His transfer to Los Blancos not only added fuel to the fire with regard to the rivalry between the clubs, but also put Real Madrid on the map once again.
Figo's arrival was followed by several high profile signings in the transfer market by Florentino Perez, as the likes of Zidane, Ronaldo and Beckham followed him to the Spanish capital.
The Portuguese superstar won the Ballon d'Or in 2000 and became the focus of the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry. He was met by a spattering of boos every time he lined up for Real Madrid against his former side, as Barcelona fans made the hate towards their former talisman clear.
Figo featured in several Clasico's for Real Madrid against Barcelona, but his second game back at the Camp Nou since his controversial switch is etched in football history. The constant boos and banners reading "Traitor", "Judas", "Scum", and "Mercenary" aside, objects were pelted towards the attacker during the game.
The hostile environment forced the referee to suspend the game for 20 minutes. However, when Figo lined up to take a corner, objects continued to be thrown towards him. During the break in play, a severed pig's head was amongst the debris found near the corner, much to the astonishment of the stewards.
Figo won three league titles and the UEFA Champions at Real Madrid before moving to Inter Milan in 2005. While he became the focal point of Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry, the Portuguese legend claimed later that he had no regrets over his controversial transfer decision.
"In the moment, one sees that it is a unique experience. I don’t think there’s another athlete that has played with a hundred-thousand-something crowd against him. It’s good to remember that."
Figo retired in 2009 and is regarded as one of the greatest players to have graced the game.