Football: Crowning act on London stage remains galactico's ambition

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THE LAST time Luis Figo played on English soil, on 23 April 2003, his Real Madrid team were applauded off the pitch at Old Trafford having lost 4-3 in the second leg of a mesmerising Champions' League quarter- final against Manchester United.

Watching the match that night was an unknown businessman, taking his first serious interest in a full 90 minutes of football. Roman Abramovich was reputedly so inspired that he went out and bought his own club.

Whether Figo had particularly impressed Abramovich is not known. It was Ronaldo, after all, who had grabbed the headlines with a hat-trick, and David Beckham who had run him a close second, scoring twice after coming off the bench amid the meltdown of his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson.

Yet Figo had undeniably been an influential figure not only in that 4- 3 defeat but, crucially, in Real's earlier 3-1 first-leg win, a result that gave the Spanish team the platform for their aggregate 6-5 victory. He had scored the opening goal in the Bernabeu, bamboozling Fabien Barthez with the deftest of right-rooted curlers from the left edge of the box. He had lurked, ever stealthy, creating the space and time to imbue the ball with his trickery. He had shown again why he had been Florentino Perez's first galactico and why he was still regarded as one of the world's best footballers.

It remains to be seen whether Abramovich will become Figo's new owner if the player moves to England this summer. Logic suggests that Figo might exceed the age profile at Chelsea but London is his preferred destination and though other clubs more obviously spring to mind as venues for a last hoorah, he has a track record of achieving his aims.

Prodigiously talented as a child, he joined Sporting Lisbon before he reached his teens and made his first-team debut at 16. In 1991, aged 19, he led Portugal's "Golden Generation" to the Under-20 World Cup title, and made his full international debut the same year. In 1995 he joined Barcelona, where he won the Cup-Winners' Cup and back-to-back La Liga titles. Then, amid huge controversy, Perez came calling, armed with a world record pounds 37m transfer fee. Figo's efforts at domestic, European and international level led to him being crowned Europe's best player in 2000 and the world's best in 2001, and he subsequently earned a Champions' League win and a Euro 2004 runners-up medal.

Figo has admitted that his individual ambitions have always driven him, on and off the pitch. He has explained his Barca-Real switch in terms of simple, personal betterment. "I had to think first of all of myself, to be a little selfish. I did what was best for me." In the summer, he will do so again, somewhere.


Why it might happen Why it might not Likelihood

CHELSEA The best team, the most money Too old for Jose * (out of 5)

ARSENAL Isn't he better than Ljungberg? Not Wenger's style *

MAN UNITED Queiroz connection Ronaldo is in situ **

TOTTENHAM He loves London. They're interested No Champions' League ****

NEWCASTLE They're bound to sound interested What do you think? **

BOLTON Sam loves an ageing superstar Will he have heard of Bolton? **

LIVERPOOL Glamour signing if Gerrard departs He would prefer London ****