eyes chance to crown glorious career
on home soil
is cutting it fine in his quest to land a first major
title at full international level for Portugal, but
Euro 2004 may yet provide the 31-year-old with the
crowning moment of his career.
Figo has won just about every honour available to him at
club level and was named FIFA World Player of the Year
He has won more than 100 caps and has done more as an
ambassador for Portuguese football than any player since
the great Eusebio. This will be his last, and best,
chance to claim the major title that has always eluded
him and his country.
Figo has sent out mixed signals about his plans post-Euro 2004
but the point remains that if Portugal do not win on their own
soil in front of their own fans, there is little chance of
them winning anything else until the next golden generation
Born on the industrial south bank of the River Tagus facing
Lisbon in 1972, Figo began playing with Sporting, helped
Portugal to the World Youth Championship in 1991 and moved to
Barcelona in 1995.
After five brilliant years at the Nou Camp, where he matured
into arguably Europe's most destructive forward, he moved to
Real Madrid in a controversial deal in 2000 for what was then
a world record fee of $56 million.
Shortly before the move to Real, he had strengthened his reputation with an inspirational performance in Portugal's run to the semi-finals at Euro 2000.
Figo went on to help Real Madrid to the league title in his first season and the Champions League the following year and also drove Portugal through a great qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup.
By the time the squad flew to South Korea, however, he was recovering from injury and lacked his usual speed and strength on the ball.
Portugal paid the price as they were outplayed by the United States and failed to get through the first round.
Figo's spark seemed to be missing for much of last season, too, but this year he has re-emerged as one of the most effective forwards in Spain.
He no longer possesses the stunning change of pace but he retains an exquisite touch and has developed a street-wise determination that contributes countless free kicks to the Real cause.
"Real Madrid need the sort of player I am now," he explained. "Instead of spending 80 minutes doing nothing, and then providing one goal or an assist, I work throughout the game."
That mix of sublime skill and a willingness to get his elbows and knees dirty for the cause won him warm applause on the night of his 100th appearance for Portugal against England in February
- and may yet have the fans cheering even louder in Lisbon next month.