End of an era

Luis Figo's likely departure from Real Madrid marks the end of an era at the club, according to centre-back Ivan Helguera.

"As a team mate, a friend, and as a player it is a shame that he has gone," Helguera told the Real Madrid website on Friday.

"As a player he gave everything to Real Madrid and helped the club win a lot of trophies. I think the arrival of Figo and (club president) Florentino Perez was a watershed for Real."

The 32-year-old Portuguese international is set to sign a two-year deal with Inter Milan after leaving Real's pre-season training base on Thursday in order to pass a medical with the Serie A side.

Figo played an instrumental role in helping Perez become president of Real Madrid in July 2000. The construction magnate promised to buy the player out of his contract with Barcelona if he won the election.

Against expectation Perez was catapulted to power on the back of the promise and paid a then world record $56 million to bring Figo to the Bernabeu.

The arrival of Figo inaugurated the so-called Galactico era at Real with Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham joining the club in succeeding years.

Figo won two league titles, the World Club Cup, the European Super Cup and the Champions League in his first three seasons at Real. Helguera, who had a brief spell at AS Roma earlier in his career, said the former World and European Player of the Year would have little difficulty adapting to Italian football.

"Given the power and strength that Luis has he can adjust to any type of football," he said. "Italian football is very physical, but I'm sure he will have no problems."

Helguera expressed his regret that fellow centre-back Walter Samuel had also recently left Real for Inter just a year after joining the Spaniards from Roma.

"I think he is a great player and that people, especially the fans, were a little unfair to him," he said. "Maybe the fans didn't give him enough time.

Last season we had the second best defensive record in the league and that was partly down to him."

Helguera said he now hoped English centre-back Jonathan Woodgate would be able to complete his recovery from a long-term thigh injury and prove his worth in the Real defence.

"We are all hoping that he recovers fully and shows what a good player he is," he said.

"He's been out for a year and at last he's with the rest of the team, but he hasto take it step by step ... We are all convinced, though, that he will be abletoplay like he did before and will help bring plenty of success to the club."