Controversy Over Transfer Fees
By 2001, however, Figo was playing not for Barcelona, but for Spanish league rival Real Madrid. In late 2000, Figo signed a six-year contract with Madrid, which agreed to pay Figo $4 million a year, and Madrid agreed to buy out his contract by paying Barcelona a world record $56 million. In joining Madrid, Figo broke a promise that he would never leave Barcelona.
"The battle was as bitter and passionate as any Cup final," Jennie James wrote in Time Europe. "But if the accusation of treason and the veiled threats of revenge that followed Figo's defection seemed excessive, they were trifling compared to the price Real Madrid paid for him." The size of the fees, and their degree of legality have sparked political and legal debate around Europe. "In one of the most politically and emotionally charged debates ranging in Brussels, the European Commission and the soccer establishment are fighting over how much European antitrust and labor laws should apply to this sport," Philip Shishkin wrote in the Wall Street Journal. The record lasted but briefly. Real Madrid executive Florentino Perez, one year later, lured former French 1998 World Cup hero Zinedine Zidane from Juventus for $64.45 million.