October 21, 2000, became Figo Day, even though it wasn't in the official footballing calendar back then. It was the day that Luis Figo returned to the Camp Nou for the first time since joining Real Madrid in what was then termedthe transfer of the century. His move to Real Madrid had been a monumental moment, particularly after his five years at Barcelona where he had endeared himself to a fanbase that took him into their hearts with his passionate displays. Here comes a look back at the events of his first trip back to the Camp Nou, as told by those who were there.
The week before: Gaspart, Valdano, Raul, Pep
Seeing Figo wear the No.10 of Real Madrid was the realisation of a nightmare for Barcelona fans. The week before the match, players woke up every day to hear Figo's name on everyone's lips. Jorge Valdano, the sporting director of Real Madrid, explained at the time that Figo was different to previous cross-club mover Michael Laudrup, explaining that the Portuguese was "already expecting what's to come".
Vicente del Bosque was coach of Los Blancos, and he assured people that Figo would cope. "He'll deal with it," Del Bosque said. "He's a great professional." The Barcelona president Joan Gaspart wasn't sending out any eulogies, however. "We're not preparing any special welcome for him," he said. "I didn't get any flowers when I went to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu."Raul Gonzalez, the Real Madrid skipper, said that Figo "could silence the Camp Nou", while the Catalans' midfielder Pep Guardiola said that "Figo will be welcomed like Luis Enrique is in Madrid".
Figo himself talked to MARCA the day before travelling to the game. "At times I feel I'm treated like a murderer," he said. "I don't think I'm Judas or a traitor."He added that his main worry was provoking any violence away from the football. His face on banknotes, 112 decibels, a 2-0 loss...
The welcome for Figo was as hostile as expected. Sport even gave its readers a banknote poster with Figo's face on it. The Real Madrid players had objects thrown at them at Barcelona airport on their arrival and again at their hotel, where fans also congregated outside at 02:00 the night before to sing and sound car horns. In the end, Real Madrid wilted in the face of an extraordinary atmosphere, losing 2-0 to goals from Luis Enrique and Simao.
The decibel level reached 112, equivalent to a plane taking off. And the insults - and objects - rained down on Figo, particularly if he got near the edges of the pitch.
Puyol's marking job
Figo played, but wasn't really there. Or perhaps he was there, but he didn't really play. Carles Puyol did such an effective man-marking job on Figo that the Portuguese lost the ball 13 times, got booked and only managed one shot on target. Figo didn't even take corners as his team tried to protect him - but that didn't happen two years later when that infamous pig's head landed by his feet.
Cruyff didn't hold back
After the game, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez gave his view. "I thought that the atmosphere would affect Figo, but in fact it affected the whole team," he said. Figo waited to return to Madrid before opening up. "I'm sorry for my teammates," he said. "It hurts that we lost." Meanwhile, Johan Cruyff told MARCA at the time that "the Camp Nou gobbled up Figo and all of Real Madrid".
The view of players such as Abelardo
Abelardo played that game for Barcelona in central defence. "It was incredible because when we went out to warm up there were already so many people in the stands, something that rarely happened," he said. "I barely spoke to Figo during the game. It looked like he found it tough. His move hit us all too, he was such a big part of our club. But I did feel sorry for him at times during the game. I talked to him at the end and I don't think he found it at all easy to be pilloried by a set of fans that had idolised him, perhaps more than any other player."
Perez Burrull, an embattled referee
For referee Alfonso Perez Burrull, it was his first Clasico. "The entry onto the field was spectacular," he said. "It was the only time in my career that I was taken to a ground in a police van. I just remember the noise - it was deafening. There was so much aggression, I remember seeing the banknotes. You never forget a game like that." The official went on to explain how he approached the game. "My objective as a referee was to let the game flow," he said. "Except for when I had to pick up objects that had been thrown. One was a mobile phone, which must've been a luxury accessory back then."
Sergi Barjuan shares his memories
Barcelona left-back Sergi recalled an event like no other. "It was an extraordinary day," he said. "Everything was focussed on Figo. We were used to this as players, but even for him this was a new situation. I spoke with him during the game, we had a good relationship. It was just a unique situation."
Figo looks back
Figo has since talked about that day. I had been expecting it," he told the Universo Valdano programme. The media had hyped it up. What I saw was an unusual situation, it wasn't about sport. I was just worried about my safety." Of that historic day, Alfredo Di Stefano perhaps summed it up best at the time. "I have never seen anything like it," he said.
Source: Marca / José Luis Hurtado - Rob Hemingway