Luis Figo (Portugal)
© AFP

Luis Felipe Madeira Figo was born on November 4, 1972, in the working-class district of Almada in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. He first played football in the street team Os Pastilhas. Then, as an 11-year-old, he joined the junior section of legendary Sporting Lisbon. His former coach and great patron Carlos Queiroz, who later coached the Portuguese national team, recalls that: "Even then, Luis was ahead of all the rest."

In 1989, the wily, agile Figo was a member of the Portuguese team that finished third in the FIFA U16 World Championships in Scotland. Two years later, he won the FIFA World Junior Championships on home soil with the national U20 team. Then, as later in the national team, he formed the heart of the team with Rui Costa and João Pinto.

Figo was 17 when he made his debut in the Portuguese championship. He earned his first international cap soon after turning 19, and was transferred to FC Barcelona in 1995. A few months earlier he had won the Portuguese Cup with Sporting, and finished second in the Portuguese Championship. In Barcelona, where he was coached by Johan Cruyff, Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal, the five-times winner of "Portugal's Footballer of the Year" developed into a superstar. He was central to the team that won the 1997 Cup Winners Cup and the European Supercup, the 1998 and 1999 Spanish championship and the 1997 and 1998 Spanish Cup (Copa del Rey).

But Figo's most outstanding performance to date came in the 2000 European Championships in Belgium and Holland. Figo was both the head and heart of a Portuguese team that played the finest attacking football of the tournament, before succumbing in the semi-final to the eventual winner, France. Many regard Figo as the player of the tournament.

After EURO 2000, Figo, who has said that "without the ball, I am only half complete", moved for the then record sum of CHF100m to Real Madrid, where he immediately won the Spanish championship. Real fans adore Figo, because his style of football not only looks good - it works. Jupp Heynckes, former coach at Real, agrees: "Luis is technically perfect, quick off the mark and a great dribbler. He's a striker who pulls the crowds into the stadium."

Real Madrid's technical director, Jorge Valdano, is equally taken with the player in the Number 10 strip: "We are so used to Figo playing brilliantly that we think he's playing badly when he just plays normally."

Off the pitch, Figo enjoys a less spectacular existence, preferring to avoid the publicity that inevitably surrounds him. In his free time he reads, goes to the cinema, listens to music, rides horseback and plays golf. In April 2000, a book was published about Portugal's most famous and best footballer since the legendary Eusebio. Its title: "Figo - Born to Triumph".