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By Brian Homewood
May 21 (Reuters) - Luis Figo was one of the most talented, successful and exciting players of his generation, leading Portugal to a series of impressive performances which put many bigger countries to shame.
However, he has not brought quite the same sparkle to his campaign for the FIFA presidency, which he is contesting against incumbent Sepp Blatter, Michael van Praag of the Netherlands and Prince Ali Bin AL Hussein of Jordan at the end of this month.
In fact there have been several reported rumours that Figo will pull out of the campaign before the election, although he has strongly denied that is the case.
A player who could leave opponents trailing in his wake as he stormed down the wing, Figo won four Spanish and four Italian league titles, plus the Champions League, and also made a record 127 appearances for his country.
He was voted European Footballer of the Year in 2000, World Player of the Year in 2001 and Portuguese Footballer of the Year six times in a row in a career which took him from Sporting Lisbon to Barcelona and bitter rivals Real Madrid and Inter Milan.
But for all his talent and personality, he often had the air of a man who was carrying the world on his shoulders and was as short of charisma off the pitch as he was full of flair on it.
He often gave monosyllabic answers at news conferences and looked so glum at Euro 2004 that coach Luiz Felipe Scolari had to reassure the media that Figo was not in a sulk after being substituted in the quarter-final against England.
Those characteristics have made his decision to dabble in sports politics all the more surprising.
Figo decided in January that he would put himself forward for the FIFA presidency and, although many were encouraged by the idea of a former player entering the race, his performances so far have suggested he is struggling to adapt.
Figo was the least convincing of the three challengers to Sepp Blatter when they addressed the UEFA Congress in March and his answers at a roundtable for the media were vague and non-committal.
The 42-year-old, who is funding his own campaign, says that his motivation for standing is to "give something back to the game that has shaped me so deeply."
"I grew up in a working class district of Lisbon playing on the streets and my life changed forever through the power of football," he said on his campaign website(www.forfootball.org).
"Because of my upbringing and the time during and after my playing career, I cherish the fact that I am my own man. I don't owe anything to anybody.
"Therefore I can serve as FIFA president exclusively in the interest of football and its future."
His priority is to give better opportunities to children around the world to get training for a young age and one of the central point of his manifesto is to change the way FIFA distributes funds to member associations.
He has proposed that 50 percent of FIFA's revenues is distributed to its 209 members to promote development of grass roots football.
"If done in the right way, with a clearly defined strategy that is centrally audited and monitored, this investment will radically enhance football opportunities for boys and girls and directly benefit all of FIFA's 209 member associations," he said.
Figo has three proposals for the future of the World Cup: keep it to 32 teams; increase it to 40; or increase it to 48 teams, split into two tournaments played on different continents. If elected, he would open those ideas to debate, although he favours an increase of some sort.
"My starting point in this debate is that by increasing the number of teams participating in the World Cup, we not only make sure that we include more countries from across the world in the greatest football competition in the world," he said.
UEFA president Michel Platini is the outstanding example of a former player turning to sports administration, however he climbed slowly through the ranks.
The Frenchman was joint head of the organising committee for the 1998 World Cup in France and served on UEFA and FIFA's executive committee for five years before winning the UEFA presidency.
Figo, on the other hand, has dived straight in, showing the same courage he did when, playing for Real Madrid, he faced a battery of missiles, including a pig's head, from a hostile Barcelona crowd as he took his team's corners during a game at the Nou Camp.
"There is far too much at stake to sit on the side lines and refuse to act," he said. "That is not the man I am." (Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; Editing by Douglas Beattie)