By Simon Baskett
Real Madrid's Luis Figo added yet another award to the growing list of accolades he has accumulated in recent seasons, after FIFA<注1> named him as World Player of the Year for 2001 on Dec 17. The 29-year-old Portuguese international, who was named European Player of the Year in December, 2000, has proved beyond all doubt that he is one of the best forwards in the history of the game.
He has pace, impressive close control, a deadly shot and the strength and stamina of an athlete. Although he is probably at his most dangerous when he clips in his teasing crosses from either wing, he is almost as lethal when he cuts inside and unleashes his own fierce drives. His spectacular long distance goal against England in Euro 2000 is a vivid testament to what can happen if defenders give him room to run and shoot.
Above all Figo is a team player. He can never be accused of not giving 100 per cent when he steps out on to the field.
God-given talent allied with the ability to sacrifice himself for the team are what marks out Figo from the rest of the world's soccer superstars and puts him top of every manager's wish list.
The Portuguese star is hot tempered and argumentative on the pitch, and gets more than his fair share of bookings. But it is this competitive spirit that makes him such a firm favourite with the fans.
However, it was not for his footballing talent that Figo stole the headlines last summer, but for his then world record ,690 million defection from Barcelona to arch-rivals Real Madrid. The multi-talented forward has now become a symbol of the new generation of the sports global superstars whose own interests supersede those of the club they play for.
Barcelona have struggled to replace the man who helped them to two league titles, two Spanish Cups, the European Super Cup, the Spanish Super Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup.
But Barca's loss has been Real's gain, and although the winger has not yet reproduced the sparkling form of his days in the granite and blue strip, he has proved to be a gilt-edged<注2> asset to 'Los Blancos'.<注3>
Figo provided a hatful of goal assists in Real's procession to last season's league title and notched nine of his own during the course of his 34 league appearances.
This term the Portuguese star has had a more low profile start to the campaign. The arrival of Zinedine Zidane<注4> has seen the spotlight move to Real's new world record signing and Figo has not shone as brightly as his French teammate.
Possibly as a result of his experiences last season, Figo appears a more aloof and serious figure than ever, but there is little doubt that he still has a fierce desire to win.
Helping guide Portugal to World Cup qualification was his first success of the season and it would be suprising if he did not finish the campaign with more garlands to add to his already impressive collection.
Profile of Figo
Name: Luis Filipe Figo Madeira Caeiro
Club: Real Madrid (Spain)
Birthplace: Lisboa (Portugal)
Height: 180 cm
Weight: 75 Kg