Luis Figo: We are interested in setting up academies in India if we find the right partners
After the end of his playing career, Portugal great Luis Figo has ventured into exploring other avenues including running for the post of FIFA President in 2015. He's also started Network 90, a networking platform for professional footballers and worked as a brand ambassador for the Stop TB Partnership as well as an ambassador for Internazionale, his last professional club.
In his latest adventure, he's in India as President of the newly formed Premier Futsal League. Along with Premier Futsal CEO, Abhinandan Balasubramanian, Figo took part in a brief Q&A session with media during the Chennai leg of the tournament.
('AB’ denotes quotes from Abhinandan)
Q: What is the vision for Premier Futsal long term?
Figo: It is the first platform to put together professional legends and professional futsal players, and of course the Indian hopefuls. Yes, this is a long-term project. We hope the people support us. In India there is a great passion for sports and we hope we can find our place.
Q: Has the paucity of time hurt the league?
AB: In terms of the league, you've seen what we've put out on TV. That is the base going forward even to say next season. Don't think anything has hampered the preparation. The futsallers have been training for a while, the legends have joined a bit late, yes, but that was always the plan. They are the legends for a reason right?
From the first set of games you would have seen that they don't lack anything in terms of training or fitness themselves. In fact, there's been goals and assists by them, so I don't think there is anything that's hampered the league.
Q: Could you give us a brief timeline right from the conceptualisation of the idea to tournament execution?
AB: About 15 months back is when we conceptualised that we'd start Premier Futsal and about 12 months back we started speaking with Luis, telling him about the idea, how we were planning to go about Premier Futsal, what the larger vision was for the company as well as the league, both in India and from a global perspective in terms of getting the international players here.
Once that was done it was about bringing the right eyeballs in, the right sort of legends coming here to play, Luis has played an integral part in that. Also in forming the best practices. So yes 15 months, but the real work began about eight months ago, first 6-7 months was all about conceptualising and getting the right partners on board.
Q: Was there trouble in convincing the international players to come?
Figo: No, I think the most important thing is to see the fit in terms of program and schedule because they also have their own life during the year and they have to make compromises. But I think it was okay the contracts we made for the legends for this event.
And all of them were happy, answered quickly, were positive. Some of them, in fact, had other appointments on this day and chose to still come.
Q: Is there a chance we'd get to see you on the field?
Figo: The only thing is that I am the President and it would be like a conflict of interest. If I could play for a team and win, people might say I won because I'm in charge (laughs). I would love to play of course.
Q: Would you have more than one season in a year?
Figo: Yeah, we are looking to do more seasons, maybe in January. If we don't have any kind of issues, of course. We are here to promote football and make this event work. It is a private investment so we don't want any kind of issues with no one. Just create this event and develop the football.
Q: Can you tell us about other similar projects around the world?
Figo: Yes, there are futsal events in different parts of the world. I know in Kuwait, I know in Dubai, it's always good when the private investment helps to develop the football because of course you create the possibilities and get the attention of the people who love football and futsal. We try to do good things for the sport.
Q: Is there a focus on getting alternative arts such as freestyling going in India with the presence of a freestyler in every team?
Well, the main goal is to develop futsal. There are more areas, but first, we have to focus on what is the concept
Q: Can futsal help footballers more in today's modern football with defences being on top and the game getting more cagey?
Figo: There is futsal in moments of football, but the space and concept are different. I think that most of the football players, they started with playing futsal, so that helps in the technique and skills, but in other parts of the game, it's different. Futsal players, when they play football, they find it difficult and we (footballers), when we play against professional futsal players we have difficulties too. Yes, we can see some movements that can help, but the moments and the space are totally different.
Q: What do you think of Cristiano Ronaldo’s evolution as a player from 2004 when you played with him to now?
Figo: The evolution of your skills, your maturity and experience. Physically I think you improve your condition, makes you achieve the highest level of your career when you are 28, 29, 30 years. And he is someone who always wants to improve and get better in all aspects.
As a football player, if you don't have the passion, it is difficult for you to achieve your goals. The passion to win, the passion to train, the passion to improve, the passion for the game, that is what makes you different.
Q: Portugal rather unexpectedly won Euro 2016. Do you the 2004 team was better than the current one?
Figo: I don't compare generations. When you compare there is always someone who loses. I am proud of what I did for my generation, my generation is proud of the work we did for Portugal. I don't think we can compare teams, different players, different moments.
Q: Do you think Portugal can continue this winning run to the next World Cup?
Figo: We hope so. Hopefully, continue the moments that brought us victory.
Q: What are your thoughts on Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid coach?
Figo: I'm happy for him because he's my friend. I'm always happy for my friends. I don't know about him as a coach because I have not seen him like that. I never worked with him as a coach, as a football player he is one of the best in the world
As a coach, he has started well in difficult circumstances. He must be very happy with what he did in the last few months. The Champions League is a very difficult trophy to win. It's a new season now and expectations are always high when you coach Real Madrid. It's going to be difficult, but I think he has the capabilities to have a good season.
Q: Do you think Premier Futsal can improve?
Figo: Sometimes you have issues, sometimes the issues are not because of you. You have some problems, but we want to improve every season. When this season finishes, we'll see where we can improve and how to do better. Life is like that, if you don't make mistakes, you don't have the opportunity to improve.
Q: What was it that you had in mind for the first phase of Premier Futsal?
AB: In terms of the league itself, the plan is to expand the league and add more teams. The best way to promote the sport in India is to get the advocates of the sport here, who've grown up playing the sport and have become such huge names.
From what we've heard so far from the legends, they've loved the experience and been pretty happy with the way things have gone about and they see that this could be a very big thing going forward. We've also got some of them telling us that their friends are interested, so that's good to know for us as a league, but the plan is to expand in the future. And as Luis explained, the long-term idea is also to get Luis Figo Academies in as part of the project.
Figo: Luis Figo Academies are football academies, but the two are different projects, Premier Futsal and the academies. I've already opened in China with licenced coaches, about 40 Portuguese coaches are there.
We're seeing if there is some interest to set it up here in India. We need the right partners who share the same philosophy and who are interested to develop football in India professionally and let's see if something comes up in the next few months.