BY SUDHAKAR SHANBHAG | NT
PANAJI: Football fanatic Goa will undoubtedly be blessed when Portuguese legend Luis Figo, one of true modern day football greats, arrives in the state on November 1 to be part of the Youth Champions League, which kicked off at Nehru stadium, Fatorda, Monday.
The Portuguese connection is what will set up a homely atmosphere and football lovers in general and Figo fans in particular will surely be geared up to witness the legend in action at Fatorda stadium as he is set to lead Goa XI in an exhibition match against India XI on the final day of YCL.
Those in the know informed this daily that Figo will make a minimum of 20-minute appearance and his presence on the Fatorda pitch will surely keep the fans grooved in the stands as this event will be of gigantic proportions, especially with the fact that no top world footballer has of late made a public appearance on Goa soil. Add to that pop star Remo Fernandes will be performing live at the closing ceremony of the YCL to spice-up the finale.
In fact, Figo’s presence in Goa will be a huge boost to Goan football. Despite his ultra-short visit for the YCL, Figo will surely leave behind his indelible trail, simply because he is a star who rocked the world and made home in the hearts of many Goans, purely on the basis of the Portuguese connection - the bond, which is football, being common.
It seems to be the season of ex-football stars visiting India. Only a few days ago Argentina legend Diego Armando Maradona had visited Kerala, while Brazilian World Cup winning captain Carlos Dunga was in Kolkata over Durga Puja. Now ex-Portuguese international Luis Figo is set to visit Goa and enthral the lovers of football in this tiny but impacting state.
The 39-year-old Luís Filipe Madeira Caeiro Figo, better known as Luis Figo, started his career with Sporting Clube de Portugal before going on to play for FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Internazionale Milan. For Portugal, he played 127 times scoring 32 goals. Luis Figo will be in Goa as a special guest and brand ambassador of the inaugural Youth Champions League being organised by Mumbai-based Red9 Events.
“We have tentatively decided to name the home team as Figo Goa XI. He will play for a minimum of 20 minutes although the exact duration of the match is still being worked out,” said a spokesperson from Red9 Events.
Luis Figo is seen by many as the outstanding player of his generation. His classy dribbling, pinpoint crossing and high work-rate have led to him being recognised with European Footballer of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year awards during his career.
Born in Almada on the outskirts of Lisbon, Figo came through the ranks at Sporting. His talent was identified from an early age, and the young winger was part of the Portugal side that won under-16 and under-20 international trophies in the late 1980s.
GOLDEN SPANISH YEARS
Figo spent four seasons as a key member of the first-team at Sporting, before deciding to leave for Barcelona in 1995. Although the coach who brought him to Spain, Johan Cruijff, soon left the club, Figo made a huge impact, helping the Catalans to two La Liga titles, a Cup Winners’ Cup and two Spanish Cups, and becoming a huge fan favourite.
In 2000 Figo was at the centre of one of the most infamous transfers in football history. Florentino Perez, president of Barca’s fierce rivals Real Madrid, announced that he had agreed a deal to sign the Portuguese star. Real paid a staggering €65m to activate Figo’s release clause and complete the switch, infuriating the Nou Camp fans.
Figo thrived at the Bernabeu, winning La Liga in his first season and the Champions League the following year. A fourth Spanish title of his career followed in 2003 and Figo oversaw the likes of Ronaldo and David Beckham arriving in Madrid as Perez looked to create the famous ‘Galactico’ team of superstars.
However, after two years without a trophy, Figo became frustrated with the club’s apparent priority of commercial success and big-name signings. In 2005, amid continued concern about the direction the club was going - Figo departed for Internazionale.
Initial skepticism from the Italian press about the then 33-year-old’s hunger was soon proved to be unfounded. Figo showed his class and established himself as one of Inter’s key players, helping the team win the Italian Cup in his first season. Inter were later awarded the Italian title after a match-fixing scandal punished Juventus and Milan.
Although Figo himself impressed at several tournaments, possibly the only disappointment of his career was that he, along with the generation of players so successful at youth level, were unable to win a major international trophy.
They came close, reaching the final of Euro 2004 on home soil, only to suffer heartbreak with a 1-0 loss to Greece. After briefly quitting international football, Figo graced the biggest stage one last time at the World Cup in 2006, before bowing out with a record 127 caps for his country. In his homeland Figo is considered second only to Eusebio as Portugal’s greatest ever player.