Barcelona 0-0 Real Madrid, November 23, 2002
For a supporter, there aren’t many greater acts of treachery a player can commit than leaving for a massive rival. But there are few more high profile than when Luis Figo swapped the iconic Blaugrana jersey for the all white of their eternal rivals Real Madrid.
Amidst all the controversy that engulfed Figo in the wake of the fractious move, it’s worth remembering just how good a player he was at the time of the sale. The Portuguese was a phenomenon at the Camp Nou, with his silky dribbling, eye for a pass and clinical edge in front of goal cementing his status as a fan favorite; he won two league titles and two Copas with the Blaugrana.
It’s what made his move to Real all the more infuriating in their eyes, but when Los Blancos president Florentino Perez sanctioned a world record bid for that player in 2000 to match the release cause in his contract, the wheels were already in motion on a potential deal.
Not many expected Figo—a man who had grown to become almost synonymous with the Barcelona cause—to make the switch, but in Sid Lowe’s book Fear and Loathing in La Liga, he admitted he felt unappreciated by the Catalan club and decided to speak with their great rivals. The Portuguese star went on to claim it was a moment of hot-headedness that evidently turned into something a whole lot more significant.
Indeed, on July 24, 2000, Figo was unveiled as a Real Madrid player after completely a £38 million deal. He looked uneasy and uncomfortable when being handed his shirt by Alfredo di Stefano, perhaps anticipating the anger that would inevitably come his way when he did eventually return to Catalonia.
As expected, season after season Figo was treated to the most hostile of receptions from the 120,000 strong crowd that were jam packed into the Camp Nou. Michel Salgado recounts one particular game in Lowe’s book:
By the second or third corner I turned to Luís Figo and said: ‘Forget it, mate. You’re on your own’. I used to offer Luís the chance to take the short corner, drawing up close to him near the touchline, but not this time.