‘You Can’t Wait For Qual­ity In­dian Foot­ballers To Fall From The Sky’

He sure doesn't know much about In­dian football but the leg­endary Luis Figo is in the coun­try and is en­joy­ing his time here

The Economic Times - - Sports - In­dra­jit Hazra

Luis Figo doesn’t like talk­ing about the past. But once pressed, and lu­bri­cated by the Por­tuguese red wine in front of him, the 43-year-old com­plies. “I saw the match in Madrid be­fore tak­ing the flight here (to Mum­bai),” says the for­mer Real Madrid -- and lest one for­gets, Barcelona – star winger about the week­end’s El Cla­sico that Madrid won, break­ing Barca’s record 39-game un­beaten spree.

“Barcelona was bet­ter at the be­gin­ning. Then Madrid man­aged to get the bet­ter of them,” he says diplo­mat­i­cally, with­out show­ing any hint of pos­si­ble plea­sure in wit­ness­ing the de­feat of the club he once ‘de­fected’ from to move to their peren­nial ri­vals. Ever since his team­mate Zine­dine Zi­dane be­came Madrid man­ager, does he ever feel like call­ing him up and give some tips? “I have no in­ten­tions of be­ing a coach to any­one,” he says, with a hint of a smile. “It’s not my thing and not ev­ery­one has to do it.”

Figo, in a but­toned-up grey half-sleeved shirt, is more in­ter­ested in play­ing football evan­ge­list. Which brings him to the present – and the im­me­di­ate fu­ture. Figo is here in In­dia this week to kick­start the Premier Fut­sal League (PFL), the five-aside tour­na­ment that will be played on volleyball-size courts, pro­vid­ing a faster, TV-friendly ver­sion of football that he hopes will catch on among view­ers in In­dia. The plan is that the 10-day tour­na­ment start­ing on July 15 -- fea­tur­ing 56 fut­sal play­ers from across 21 coun­tries with each team hav­ing three in­ter­na­tional play­ers, one in­ter­na­tional mar­quee football player and one In­dian player -- will spur football in In­dia.

So why In­dia? He points to the de­mo­graph­ics -- of In­dia and China. But Figo is no wide-eyed star ex-foot­baller. “In Europe, we are used to sports be­ing part of school pro­grammes. There is a process by which young­sters rise out and are honed in the sys­tem. In­dia doesn’t have the in­fra­struc­ture, academies or the street football cul­ture that I and oth­ers grew out of. You can’t wait for qual­ity foot­ballers to fall from the sky. You have to make the con­di­tions,” he says.

The Un­der-17 Football World Cup to be hosted in In­dia next year could, he ad­mits, be an op­por­tu­nity. “But just build­ing sta­di­ums and host­ing a World Cup

LUÍS FILIPE MADEIRA CAEIRO FIGO

Por­tu­gal Ap­pear­ances

(1991-2006)

(Euro­pean Player of the Year then) 2000

2001 In 2004, He was named in a list of

@LuisFigo Great plea­sure to meet @imVkohli the most loved sports­man in In­dia i s n’t enou g h. T h at would just leave many white…” he searches for the English word. It fi­nally ar­rives, “ele­phants”.

He also be­lieves in the need for lo­cal stars. “Cricket in In­dia is big be­cause it has stars.” The names Sachin Ten­dulkar and Vi­rat Kohli are bandied about (Kohli met him the next day and gushed about the meet­ing on Twit­ter.) “At some stage, In­dia football will need lo­cal heroes for young­sters to look up to” and not just in­ter­na­tional foot­ballers to hero-

(1989-2009) Played in

and to the Euro 2004 Fi­nal. They fin­ished as run­ners up

@imVkohli With the leg­end him­self @LuisFigo What an ab­so­lutely won­der­ful man #Grate­ful #FanBoyMo­ment wor­ship as a spec­ta­tor na­tion.

The fu­ture -- of In­dian football and the fut­sal league -- slides into the back­ground as din­ner ar­rives. As he cuts through the beans and oys­ter chicken on his plate, his jet black hair bounc­ing off the glass wall be­hind him, the con­ver­sa­tion veers to the -- what’s the word again? -- ele­phant in the room: his re­turn to Camp Nou in Barcelona on Novem­ber 23, 2002 for the first time in Real Madrid colours, and the in­fa­mous co­chinillo, the sig­na­ture pig’s head dish that was thrown at him from the stands for his ‘treach­ery’ when he went to take a cor­ner.

“Did I see the pig’s head that day? No. I had to worry about other ob­jects be­ing hurled down like bot­tles, mo­bile phones and cig­a­rette lighters. I saw it the next day in the pa­pers,” he says calmly, the calm­ness prompt­ing the ques­tion to him: So why did he leave Barcelona af­ter five sea­sons for archri­vals Madrid? “It’s a job. I wanted to change for the pres­tige, the money -- the usual things peo­ple change jobs for.”

Hands crossed, fork down, he says that foot­balling suc­cess is about luck, money and ta­lent, a mix­ture of all three. “One can’t as­sume that just spend­ing truck­loads of money will as­sure suc­cess,” says one of the ear­li­est play­ers to be in­ducted in Real Madrid’s ‘Galac­tico’ era, when club pres­i­dent Florentino Perez en­sured that global stars were signed up ev­ery year.

With the talk of money, comes the talk of cor­rup­tion. Figo had en­tered the Fifa pres­i­den­tial elec­tions race against dis­graced in­cum­bent Sepp Blat­ter. Why did he with­draw mid­way? “Fifa needed a lead­er­ship that would bring about a big change. It needed to be trans­par­ent, demo­cratic. I wanted that. I with­drew when I re­alised that I would not win,” he says mak­ing his point.

He ad­mits he doesn’t know much about the football played in In­dia. He wants to know more. “So should I watch the ISL (In­dian Su­per League) or the I-League?” Si­lence de­scends in the room -- un­til Figo bursts out laugh­ing. “Well, that’s what the fut­sal league is for then!”

And the man, who through the evening re­fused to choose be­tween his coun­try­man and Real Madrid com­padre Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Barcelona’s Leo Messi as his choice for best foot­baller, cryp­ti­cally adds, “Football is about the team,” be­fore get­ting up and shak­ing hands. One could swear that he was on his way to the San­ti­ago Bern­abeu.

Figo ad­mits he doesn’t know much about the football played in In­dia. He wants to know more

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