Throughout history the derby matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid have been real spectacles that no football fan on the planet wanted to miss.
But one of the most memorable El Clasico clashes was played on November 23, 2002. Unprecedented noise was heard at the packed Camp Nou, and the reason for that was the return of their former hero, and now perceived traitor, Luis Figo.
Although more than two years had passed since the Portuguese’s transfer from Barcelona to Madrid, Catalan fans had not yet forgiven his decision to leave the Blaugrana. Nearly 100,000 spectators tried their utmost to unnerve their ex-star, including by throwing all sorts of objects at him.
The most striking moment of the evening happened after half an hour of play when the Portuguese headed to take a corner from the right-hand-side of the field. Countless objects, whiskey bottles, mobile phones, golf balls flew his way, including an object that will become one of the symbols of the rivalry between the two clubs and the hatred of the Catalans towards Figo, a pig’s head. A delay of nearly twenty minutes was necessary to calm the fans down eoungh so that the match, that eventually finished goalless, could continue.
Twenty years later, when asked how he would celebrate the transfer that marked his career, Figo replied “with a pig’s head”.
It all started with the entry of Florentino Perez into the race for president of Real Madrid in 2000. Although Perez was considered an outsider in the candidacy against Lorenzo Sanz, who brought Real back to the top of Europe, the local politician announced major changes and planned on bringing in some of the best players around.
As his wing man, Perez had Paulo Futre, the legend of Atletico Madrid and the Portuguese national team, who was currently Figo’s advisor. Futre managed to persuade Figo to sign a pre-contract agreement with Real that would take effect if Perez became the head of the club, which would make the transfer of the Portuguese the most expensive in football history, and he would become the highest paid player.
A few weeks later, Perez won the battle against Sanz and becomes president of Real Madrid, which started the speculations on a transfer that seemed unreal to everyone. Although Figo reportedly regretted his decision and tried to stay in Barcelona, he had no choice but to move to their arch rivals for a then record 62 million euros.
To add to the pain and anger for Barcelona fans, Figo as a Real Madrid player, just a few months later won the Ballon d’Or, as well as the World Soccer (magazine) Award for Player of the Year, although he played more games in that year in a red and blue jersey.
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