FOOTBALL: Figo ready for move to England in summer

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LUIS FIGO is likely to join a Premiership club this summer. His departure from the Bernabeu has become increasingly certain in the last few days as Real Madrid continue to prevaricate about whether to renew his contract, which expires at the end of next season. Real's failure to come to a decision has prompted the Portuguese midfielder to ask the Spanish club to release him at the end of this season, a request his club are expected to agree to.

If Figo does leave the Bernabeu, he will almost certainly look for an English club, with the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and perhaps even Chelsea among the teams expected to compete for his services. Figo, who will be 33 next November, insists that if he leaves Real he will not play for another Spanish club, and has long been an admirer of English football. In any case, only Premiership clubs are likely to be able to meet his considerable wage demands.

"Like any human being, I want to sort out my future as soon as possible," Figo said. "Given my age, the logical thing would be for them to allow me to leave at the end of this season, if they are not going to extend my contract.

"I'm absolutely certain that I'm not going to play for any other club in Spain," he added. "England has always been a dream because of the respect they have for the professionals over there and for the prestige associated with playing there. But, of course, I realise dreams don't always come true."

Figo originally gave Real a December deadline to make it

clear whether or not they would offer him a new deal, but his ultimatum has been greeted with silence, and the Real vice-president Emilio Butragueno said this week that the club did not plan to discuss the matter until the end of the season.

But given that they renewed the deals for fellow galacticos Raul, Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane in good time, all the indications are that they have no intention of doing the same for the former Barcelona player. Real have also been heavily linked with Real Betis' Spanish international winger Joaquin, who plays in much the same position as Figo.

There is likely to be some furious behind-the-scenes manoeuvring between now and the summer as Figo tries to push the club into letting him go before his contract expires in order to sign one last lucrative deal with an English Premiership side.

One story that did the rounds in the Spanish press last week was that Figo was even prepared to threaten a return to Barcelona on a free transfer at the end of his contract if Real did not let him go at the end of the present campaign.

Given that Barcelona fans' hatred for Figo remains undimmed after his pounds 37m defection to their arch rivals in the summer of 2000, a return to the Nou Camp would seem to be impossible, but the very fact that the story has been leaked to the press is the first indications that the jostling for position is under way.

Figo's availability would alert the biggest teams in the Premiership, and although Sir Alex Ferguson and his assistant Carlos Queiroz are long- standing admirers of Figo, it is Chelsea not Manchester United which is the Portug-uese midfielder's preferred destination.

It is debatable whether Jose Mourinho would be interested in adding an ageing galactico to his young squad, but he did tell the Portuguese football magazine A Bola that he would sign "a great player" last week.

The two have crossed paths previously, when Mourinho was assistant to Sir Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal at Barcelona, and it was Figo who helped to persuade a reluctant dressing-room to accept his fellow countryman.

Figo loves London, and if Chelsea are not interested then Tottenham Hotspur may be a more likely destination.

Florentino Perez was elected president of Real Madrid on the back of his promise to buy Figo out of his contract at Barcelona and to make him the foundation stone of his galactico super team.

The player now feels that he is owed a favour in return, and the freedom to move to England at the end of the season is what he has in mind.