Luis Figo: I never despised David Beckham
Beckham - currently playing for Figo's city rivals AC Milan - made his high-profile £25 million move from Manchester United to the Bernabeu in summer 2003, joining the 'Galactico' era at Real Madrid with Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo also plying their trade in the Spanish capital.
And despite reports at the time that the pair maintained an intense rivalry on the pitch (arguing over taking the Madridistas' free-kicks) and off it (competing to be the biggest celebrity in Spain), Figo exclusively tells FourFourTwo it was nothing more than tabloid make-believe.
"It was something totally made up by the press... I laughed a lot at those stories," Figo says in the March issue of FourFourTwo magazine, in shops now. "People wrote things without even knowing what’s happening in the dressing-room.
"I’ve always had a great relationship with David and now that we are both in the same city, although at different clubs, we are still in touch. He’s a good person who is very easy to deal with.
"Some people also said that Zidane never passed me the ball and I didn’t pass to him, but when they looked at the statistics they realised that we were the players who actually passed the most to each other."
Figo and Beckham are set to face each other in the second Milan derby of the season on February 15. And while hostilities between the two sets of fans are sure to be fierce, it's unlikely to be as unwelcoming an atmosphere as one particular grudge match the Portuguese once appeared in.
Having made the highly controversial move from Barcelona to their hated rivals Real for £37 million in August 2000, Figo returned to the Camp Nou with his new side and endured an especially vitriolic reception from the angry Catalans.
Among the missiles pelted at the midfielder were bottles... and a pig's head. "It was a significant game for me, as it made me much more mature. I was probably the only player in the world who had 100,000 people together just against him," he says.
"My build-up for that match was exactly the same as it always was. My only concern was to play football and do my part. But of course I was a bit worried that I could be harmed, because you never know if there’s some crazy guy who will do something stupid."
Read the full exclusive one-on-one interview with Luis Figo in the March issue of FourFourTwo magazine, out now.