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The Figo Affair: The Transfer That Changed Football Review: Inside drama on Figo's move to Madrid

Luis Figo, Florentino Perez and Di Stefano holding Figo's Real Madrid shirt at his signing announcement

Back in 2000, the most shocking and unconceivable transfer of all time happened, Barcelona’s talisman, Luis Figo, made the move to arch rivals Real Madrid, branding him as a traitor and the most hated man in Barcelona. This documentary of Figo's shocking transfer affair retells how such a monumental transfer transpired, interviewing many of the key figures involved such as the agents, friends, Florentino Pérez and of course, Luis Figo himself. It provides a fascinating insight into how major footballing transfers go down, and is an interesting reminder of how the sport has found itself in the financial situation it’s in today.

The documentary sets the scene well, giving background on how Figo found himself at Barcelona, that in itself happening in controversial fashion with false promises made in dealings with Parma and Juventus earning Figo a 2 year ban from Italian football, changing his destiny to the Catalan giants. This chapter of his career portrays the fan favourite he established himself as being in Barcelona, and the adoration he had from the fans, but not from the money-men who were running the club. And with the looming spectre of presidential elections and the imminent arrival of Pérez on the scene, the stage was set and the tensions and murmurings of discontent began, setting the wheels in motion for this historic move.

By telling the story from the perspective of each of the key figures involved, rather than focusing on journalists or reporters analysis, it both adds a great sense of insider knowledge on what really happened behind closed doors, whilst simultaneously casting a shadow of doubt over everyone’s accounts. With each person offering contradictory retellings over key moments, such as wether or not Figo signed a pre-contract agreement with Madrid or his agent did it without his consent, it is never quite revealed exactly what the truth is. The viewer instead has to draw it’s own conclusions of which of the men, all shown to have good reason to want to bend the truth to come out of it looking better, they trust.

The Figo Affair: Legacy in 2023
Luis Figo playing for Real Madrid dribbling the ball

It makes for a particularly relevant watch today in the context of footballs finances getting pushed further and further to the most vulgar extremes. Here Madrid broke the world record for a transfer fee, activating Figo’s €60 million release clause that Madrid thought would never be broken. History of course repeating itself many years later when PSG did the same thing to release Neymar for €222 million. It also demonstrated the increasing involvement of agents looking to line their own pockets with as much cash as they can, often at the expense of what may be best for the players career. Figo’s agents were willing to come to the table for this seemingly impossible transfer, due to the prospect of €6 million in commission being offered by Perez. The money being worth spending for him as the ultimate media power to play to win the Madrid election. Now it is commonplace in all transfer deals, but especially those for the game’s biggest stars, that the agent is going to walk away from it with a healthy payday. It was widely reported by outlets such as The Athletic, that Erling Haaland for example, earned his agent and father a sweetener which could potentially amount to €40 million between them.

It no longer carries the same shock value today, that players could make transfer moves based purely on financial reasons. After all the Saudi League is now cherry picking as many stars as they can from Europes top league, luring them away with obscene salaries that players are willing to sacrifice their own sporting ambitions to get their hands on. Now more than ever, money is the key to all transfer deals, and loyalty to a club gets increasingly rare with each passing season. The title of the documentary claims this to be the 'transfer that changed football’, and they may very well be right. In a sporting sense it kicked off Real Madrid’s era of Galicticos which brought them huge success, particularly compared to their Spanish rivals until the emergence of Pep Guardiola, who himself was another of the documentaries key witnesses. But perhaps it’s greater legacy is in how major transfers are used as status symbols for owners looking to mark their arrival like they are expensive watches. All big dealers arriving onto the football scene like to pull off a marquee signing just like Perez did, to show what they are capable of and establish themselves on the food chain.

The documentary is well made and covers the narrative of why this transfer mattered so much well. It explains the context of Figo’s status both before and after the transfer with imagery of the outpourings of love he received changing to the vitriol and hatred he faced on his return to the Nou Camp in white. If there is some criticism to be had, it could have devoted a greater amount of time into explaining the deep history between Barcelona and Real Madrid, and just why it caused such a strong reaction when he made this move. It does go some way to demonstrating it, but only barely scratches the surface of the clubs long standing rivalries. Perhaps that would require a documentary of its own to give the treatment it deserves.

The Figo Affair: Is it worth streaming?

Luis Figo wearing number 10 Real Madrid shirt from behind celebrating with the crowd

It delivers on it’s promise of explaining the inside story of how Luis Figo ended up making his move to Real Madrid, albeit with the caveat of the people involved not wanting to hurt their own reputation and holding back the truth on some of the more divisive details. Its very well produced and is a must watch for any football fan wanting to deepen their knowledge of the beautiful game. This transfer is a vital piece in one of footballs greatest rivalries, and is also a landmark moment in both the career of one of the greats of the game in Figo, but also the starting point of one of Madrids most dominant era’s. It will leave you bemoaning the role of agents and greed in football decision making, as well as nostalgic for a classic era of football with its glimpses of the likes of Zidane and Roberto Carlos as dressing to Figo’s story. Football has evolved a lot in the two decades since this transfer, and yet so many things are built on the back of its history. Figo and this transfer, left a football legacy still felt today, and this documentary presents the best way available to learn all about it.

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