When FIFA.com went to interview the Inter Milan and Portugal playmaker at the Inter training ground in Appiano Gentile, he showed himself to be an attentive, good humoured host. As soon as he found out that our interviewer was Brazilian, Figo began to crack jokes and playfully imitate the Brazilian Portuguese accent. He was equally at home larking about with his teammate, Brazilian striker Adriano, who was also giving an interview at the club's training ground.
Figo is coming to the end of his first season in Italy, having moved from Real Madrid on a free transfer in the summer. He spent a decade in Spain spending five years at Barcelona then Madrid and won, among other things, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Championship. He is currently aiming to help Inter secure second place in Serie A behind the seemingly unstoppable Juventus, and book his team's place in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
The 33 year-old Portuguese winger and one time FIFA World Player of the Year spoke of his life in Italy, the new challenges he has faced at Inter, his footballing heroes, and his relationship with Portugal manager Luiz Felipe Scolari.
How are you and your family adapting to life in Italy?
It's going well. My family are always happy wherever I am happy. I'm very lucky in that respect. Obviously it's never easy to adapt to a new culture, a new way of life and make new friends, but we're very happy because things are going really well at Inter, and fortunately my family has always stuck by me through the good and bad times.
What do you like most about the country?
I like the club, the people who work here and the fans who have always made me feel welcome. And I also love Italian culture and food. I come from a Latin background and so the culture is very similar, which makes adapting to the way of life here much easier.
Is there a big difference between Spanish and Italian football?
There are certain differences. In Italy it's vital to know how to defend well, and a lot of time is spent on the tactical side of the game. In that respect I think things are a little more relaxed in Spanish football. You have more space to play your football, and there's more emphasis on playing with the ball. But it's been a great experience here and I think that I'm an even more complete player as a result.
What did you make of the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals against Ajax? How do you expect the second leg to go?
We made life difficult for ourselves in the first leg. We started badly, conceding two goals, but the whole team responded well in the second half, and we managed to get an important result with the second leg in mind. We're at home in the next game and I think that the two away goals definitely give us an advantage. That's extremely important in a competition like this, especially as it's a tournament we hope to go far in.
Do you still hope to win the scudetto or is the main aim to qualify for next year's UEFA Champions League?
It's mathematically possible to win the league title but I think it's more realistic for us to focus on coming second. Having said that, as long as it's theoretically possible then we have to keep believing.
You were always one of the first names on the teamsheet during your spells with Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. You've started a few games on the bench at Inter [in the match against Roma before this interview (5th March 2006) Figo was named among the substitutes]. How are you finding this?
It's down to a tactical decision by the manager. In the last game I don't think the manager wanted to risk me anyway as I'd taken a knock to my leg [Figo actually came on after 30 minutes]. I think the coach initially wanted to rotate the players so as to spread the work load a little too. I had missed out on a month of pre-season training back then anyway, as I was still at Real Madrid and we hadn't done any pre-season work there. So I wasn't fully fit when I arrived here and had to make up for lost time. But the rotation system is not something that's down to the players, it's the manager's choice. Players always want to start every game, so while it wouldn't be normal for any player to enjoy missing out, we have to respect the manager's decision.
You are one of the Portugal captains [coach Luiz Felipe Scolari generally rotates the captaincy between Figo, Pauleta and Costinha]. What is your relationship with Scolari like?Very good. I think we have a relationship based on friendship and respect. He's someone who likes to talk to the players a lot, and form this strong, united group as if we are one big family. He really understands football. Just look at his achievements; he's won the World Cup and been a runner-up in the European Championships. I think we're extremely lucky to have such an experienced guy like him leading us.
What do you make of the other teams in Portugal's FIFA World Cup™ group? [Portugal are in Group D alongside Iran, Mexico and Angola.]
I honestly don't know anything about Iran as I've never played against them. We don't tend to play against teams from that part of the world but we'll have time to study and analyse the way that they play before the World Cup begins.
Mexico will be one of the favourites to get through to the next round. I've played against them a few times and they have some technically excellent players who have done really well in important tournaments over the past few years.
There are a lot of Angolan players currently playing in Portugal. Angola's a former Portuguese colony so I imagine a lot of people back home will be unsure as to who they'll support. Like all the African teams they're physically very powerful and will obviously have to be respected.
Do you have any footballing heroes?
Yes, but they were reference points to me more than heroes. I used to really admire Maradona who I think was on a different level to everyone else playing the game. When I was younger I also used to enjoy watching players like Michael Laudrup, Zico and Marco Van Basten.
Who was the best player you ever played alongside, and who was the best you ever played against?
That's a difficult question to answer because I've been lucky enough to have played alongside some really great players like Zidane, Ronaldo and Rivaldo. So it's too hard to single out just one individual. I think maybe Laudrup was the best player I ever played against though.
You have played more matches for the Portuguese national team than any other player [118 games at the time of writing]. How much longer to you hope to represent your country?
I don't know, it's very difficult to answer that at the moment. I'm hoping to have a good World Cup and then after that we'll have to see what happens as regards to whether I continue to play for Portugal or not.
You will turn 34 in November. Do you have any plans as to what you will do when you retire from the game?
Not at the moment. I'm concentrating on this last stage of my career. I don't think I'll go into coaching however, as it's not something that really appeals to me. I'll definitely get involved with something I enjoy doing, but it's hard to know what at the moment.
If you could choose any moment in your career, what would be the best?
That's also difficult. Luckily I've had plenty of good moments [laughs]. Probably all the titles I've won. And from a personal perspective, the individual trophies that I've won would undoubtedly represent some of the highlights.
What does it mean to you to be a national hero?
I don't think you ever have a real idea of how popular you actually are, or what you mean to your country and your people. So with that in mind it's hard to know what it actually means to me. I think the most important thing you can do is play your football to the best of your ability and be a positive role model to football fans everywhere.
Are you concerned with being a good role model to the younger generations?
Given football's current significance within society, I think it's preferable to have a good image and set a good example rather than do otherwise. If we're able to do that then I think it's great. There's so much media coverage surrounding football these days that players now have to be role models to kids. When I think back to when I was young, I also had my footballing role models who I would follow. So it's obviously always better to set a good example rather than a bad one.