Posted: Friday September 8, 2006 11:02AM; Updated: Friday September 8, 2006 1:29PM
Portuguese legend Luís Figo is beginning his second season with Inter Milan, his fourth club during a 17-year professional career.
Michael Steele/Getty Images
Submit a comment or question for Jonah.
Luís Figo can't wait to play again.
The last time we saw the 2001 World Player of the Year participate in a game that counted was in early July, when Portugal lost to Germany 3-1 in the third-place match at the World Cup.
Immediately afterward, the 33-year-old attacking midfielder announced his retirement from the international game, ending a brilliant 15-year career with the Portuguese national team.
But he's still a wizard with the ball at his feet, and nowhere near done at the club level. Now entering his second season with Inter Milan, his fourth team, Figo can finally play competitively again -- and it's about time. The Serie A season begins Saturday after a two-week delay, part of the fallout from one of the worst scandals in the history of the game.
Five clubs were determined to have played roles in match-fixing during the '04-05 season, and all were punished: Defending champion Juventus was stripped of last season's title and has been demoted to Serie B, while AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina have been handed points reductions to begin the season.
That means that for the first time in ages, sentimental darling Inter has been tabbed as the favorite to win its first outright title in 18 years (Inter was awarded last season's title by default). Figo is well aware of this, and he's ready to capture a fifth league title to add to his career collection -- he won two Spanish trophies while with FC Barcelona in 1998 and '99, and another two with Real Madrid in 2001 and '03.
Figo called me from Milan on Thursday after Inter's final training session before its opener at Fiorentina on Saturday. We discussed the Nerazzurri's chances this year, how Italian fans will recover from the scandal, what it's like to watch Portugal from his living room and, finally, Figo's claim that he would love to end his legendary career in MLS.
SI.com:For once, Inter is the favorite! What do you need to do to win the title?
Figo: I think we have to be consistent during the season. Last year we had a very good season, but during the most important months we got to be not so consistent. We have a strong team this year. The club's management bought some quality players with a lot of experience among them, and I think the most important thing is that they're the types of guys who will help us stay consistent all season long. That gives us the best chance to win.
SI.com:That's definitely true -- the team brought in two new strikers who could make a big difference.
Figo: They're going to make us much stronger. They both play for their countries' national teams so they're used to important games. Zlatan Ibrahimovic in particular will make a big difference. Adriano is still our strongest striker, and Hernán Crespo is a good addition because he's a natural scorer, but Ibrahimovic is young and he is exciting. Depending on who we're playing, we have a lot of options of how to play and who to play. I think all three could play together if they had to, but that is a question for our coach!