Figo, who is Laureus Sport for Good Foundation Ambassador, spoke to Laureus.com about the next month's World Cup. Among other things, he gave his views on Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal's chances at the football's showpiece event.
Here are the excerpts from the interview
Question: Can you tell us about the World Cups you played in?
Luis Figo: My experience for playing for Portugal was always amazing and a great moment, not only in 2002 and 2006 (World Cups). I think all of the games that I played for my national team were special because I defend the colours of my country, so a friendly game for me was the same as that of a World Cup. But, of course, a World Cup is the best competition in terms of nations and the atmosphere and the prestige is the biggest, so of course it is the most important.
Question: You were captain in 2006, but Portugal lost in the semi-final to France, how upsetting was that?
Luis Figo: Well, it's always disappointing when you arrive so close to play the final of the Word Cup and you miss it. After so much work it's a long way to achieve the semi-final and you lose, so it is disappointing, but football is like that. I think you have to be taking the positive things, what's happened in that World Cup and stay with that.
Question: You played for some of the biggest clubs, how does that compare to playing for your national team?
Luis Figo: Well, there's some difference, of course, if you are a patriot. Of course, at a club you have so many games during the year, so many competitions; the national team you just play ten, 12 games a year, so you start with that difference. And of course, the feeling of defending for Portugal, 11 million passionate people that are behind the national team, and to try to achieve a fantastic moment with your national team is always a goal that you have.
The competitions are different too, like I said before. The World Cup, for me, is the best competition in terms of nations, and to play in club football right now the Champions League is the competition that gives you more prestige. But on the other hand it's all football and you are happy because you win and you have the chance to play on a high level.
Question: How will Portugal play in Brazil?
Luis Figo: Well, I think Portugal can make a good tournament depending on how the players arrive in physical condition in the World Cup. But, of course, Portugal depends a lot on Cristiano Ronaldo, so it depends if he is fit or not, and depending on his performance in the World Cup.
I think Portugal is not in the line of the favourites in national teams, but probably they are in the second line. But it is like everything; if you start well in the competition and you do the first phase of groups well, you start to win confidence and everything can happen after that. But right now I think there are other national teams with more potential than Portugal.
Question: Is Ronaldo the No.1 player in the world at the moment?
Luis Figo: Yes, he's one of them. I think he wants the Golden Ball. He had a fantastic season this year too. It's obviously depending on the choice of each person, but I think his performance in the last years has been amazing and for Portugal he is the No.1.
Question: Is he the best Portuguese player, even better than Eusebio or yourself?
Luis Figo: It is quite subjective, but in my opinion no one is above Eusebio. But probably Ronaldo will beat some records and for sure he will be remembered.
Question: Does Ronaldo need to do well in the World Cup to be remembered as one of the greatest players?
Luis Figo: Well, I think it's important, of course, if you do that in a small country like Portugal it helps to be more important, but right now I think he needs to have that distinction in terms of what people think about his qualities. To be remembered like Pelé or Maradona? Well, if you want to be remembered like that in the World Cups, of course, you have to win, but in his general image and the prestige he has, I don't think he needs that.
Question: Can Portugal win?
Luis Figo: It's very difficult, because it's a long way to the final and our country has 11 million people, so compared with Brazil, Argentina, Spain, France and the other ones who can have 50 or 60 million, the possibility of choosing players is less, so that shows that Portugal probably have difficulty choosing the 18-20 players for the World Cup. If you go to Brazil they don't have that problem, they can have two teams and that makes the difference.
Question: If Portugal are unlikely to win, can Spain win again?
Luis Figo: I don't think Spain are going to win this World Cup. I do not think they have the quality to do it. It's difficult, but it's not impossible. They have an amazing team, fantastic players, but it's always depending how they arrive at the World Cup because, you know, the Spanish League is very tough, it is a lot of games, very hard and if they arrive fresh they have more chance.
I think it's the last chance for some players to play another World Cup, like Xavi and Alonso, but I think Spain have talented players coming behind and there is not going to be a problem for the future. So I do not think it is going to be a problem to change and do a renovation of the team.
Question: How do you think Brazil will play?
Luis Figo: I think it helps to play at home. Brazil is a fantastic country and I know the national coach (Scolari) well. I think he is a fantastic coach for that kind of tournament and you are going to encourage the country to help the team by supporting them. I think if they start well it is going to be very, very difficult for the other teams.
Question: What kind of coach is Scolari?
Luis Figo: Scolari, I think, is a motivated guy. He is a coach who likes to have a strong group of players and after that he works well for this kind of tournament - 30 days of football and mentally preparing the players for that. You saw it in the Confederations Cup, he arrives and Brazil won the Confederations Cup. I think it was a preparation for this World Cup.
Question: So who will win?
Luis Figo: Well, first Brazil, after that Germany, after that probably, Argentina or Spain. And after that probably Portugal, Holland and those kind of teams.
After 2006, Germany made a renovation in their national team with younger players that were very good. I think Argentina was more or less the same. There are a lot of new players and those kind of countries for me are favourites because they have the experience to play in high level. They have the experience to always reach semi-finals and finals of the World Cups and I think that helps them too in the important moments to overcome their difficulties and get themselves into a position to win the tournament. Partly the talent and quality of the team and partly the experience of playing in so many World Cups helps at times like that.
Question: What sort of World Cup do you expect Lionel Messi to have?
Luis Figo: Even if he is not 100% fit, it is always amazing to see him play, so I don't know. He had two months injury problems this year and he continued to have the chance to be the guy who scored more goals in the league, so you never know. It looks like he's not 100% in the last games but he is always there, so I don't know what we can expect in the World Cup, but for sure we are going to see moments of huge quality from him.
Question: You are an Ambassador for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. Can you tell us what that means to you?
Luis Figo: I became an Ambassador of the Laureus Foundation because I believe in the work and the projects that Laureus is dealing with around the world. I think through sport we can help people in society to have better opportunities in life. I think we have the same ideas and beliefs. Laureus creates better conditions of life and better opportunities in the future for so many kids.
For us, what we are doing is a small thing, but by doing that we can make the kids and the people that we are visiting happy. Only to see a smile in that face can change your day. It's just a small kind of action that we can do to minimise what they are suffering or what they are doing in their life and to try to motivate them. These are moments when you can really see what difference sport can make in the life of so many people.