What ever happened to? Luciano Figueroa

A rare sight; Figueroa in Birmingham colours.

In July 2003 Birmingham City signed 22 year old Argentine striker Luciano Figueroa from Rosario Central for a fee of £2.5 million. Figueroa had just finished as the top scorer in the Clausura 2003 tournament back in Argentina with 17 goals in 19 games and was being described by some as the next Gabriel Batistuta. He had scored a total of 35 goals in 57 league games for his home town club and Birmingham manager Steve Bruce said that "we believe that for the money we've spent we have got a very very good player".

After FIFA overturned a challenge to the deal by Spanish side Osasuna who claimed that they had signed the player first, Figueroa was free to play for Birmingham from October. However he was never really given a chance, he never started a game, only ever making 2 substitute appearances for the club, which came in a 2-0 defeat to Portsmouth in the league and in a 1-0 defeat to Blackpool in the League Cup. The reason Bruce gave for this lack of opportunity was that  "he was always going to have problems in the Premiership, because of his physique." A statement that raises the question of why Figueroa was signed by Bruce in the first place if he had poor physique.


Figueroa rediscovered his form
at Mexican side Cruz Azul.
Eventually Birmingham let him leave to join Mexican side Cruz Azul, where he worked hard to regain his match fitness and scoring touch. He knocked in 19 goals in 27 league games helping the club to reach the semi finals of the Clausura 2004 championship.

In the summer of 2004 he was selected for the Argentina squad for the Copa América 2004 in Peru alongside Sunderland flop Nicolás Medina. He played in several of the games and scored 2 vital goals against Uruguay to secure Argentina's progress to the 2nd round. Later that summer he won an Olympic gold medal as part of the Argentina squad that won the Olympic football tournament in Athens.


Figueroa secured a return to European football in November 2004, signing a five and a half year deal with Spanish side Villarreal. He was part of the team that secured Villarreal's highest ever league position of 3rd, and qualification to the 2005-06 Champions League.


After leaving Birmingham, Figueroa enjoyed
a successful stint in the Argentina national team.
In 2005 he played for Argentina in the Confederations Cup, where he finished as the 2nd highest scorer in the tournament behind Brazilian striker Adriano. He has not played international football for Argentina since 2005 but his short international career must be considered a success, having scored 9 goals in his 15 full international appearances.

Figueroa had dropped off the radar for most English football fans since he was released by Birmingham, but reacquainted himself with them in 2005 when he was part of the Villarreal side that eliminated Everton from the 3rd qualifying round of the Champions League, he scored the opening goal in the first leg which was Villarreal's first ever goal in the competition. He helped Villarreal finish top of group D, in which Manchester United surprisingly finished last. Villarreal went on to reach the semi-finals of the tournament, but by then Figueroa had lost his place in the first team.

In 2006 he returned to Argentina for a brief loan spell with River Plate, in which he scored 3 goals in 7 games, before suffering a serious cruciate knee ligament injury that ended his loan spell and kept him out of the game for over 18 months.

While he was still injured he was signed by big spending Italian 2nd division side Genoa, but his recovery was delayed when his knee operation had to be redone. He eventually made his debut for the club on 28 October 2007, nearly 15 months after he joined them, by which time the club had been promoted to Serie A. He never really settled in Genoa, only scoring 3 goals in 23 league games for the club. Of all the clubs he has played for, Genoa is the only one in which he had a comparably bad time to his few months at Birmingham in 2003.

When Figueroa signed for Boca Juniors
in 2008 he joined a select band of players
to have played for Boca & River.
In 2008 he returned to Argentina to play for Boca Juniors, putting himself on the exclusive list of players to have worn the shirt of Boca and River, which includes Abel Balbo, Gabriel Batistuta, Claudio Cannigia, J.J. López, Panco Sá and Nelson Vivas.

Figueroa returned to form at Boca, scoring 7 goals in 17 league games for the club, including the goal of the week in the last fixture of the Apertura 2008 championship, helping Boca Juniors to secure their 23rd professional league championship after a 3 way playoff with Tigre and San Lorenzo.

Figueroa returned to Genoa after Boca Juniors rejected the chance to buy him out of his contract with the Italian club. He only made a handful of further appearances for them before he was released from his contract in January 2010.

He returned to his boyhood club Rosario Central, but despite an improvement in form they were relegated at the end of the 2009-10 season after losing their promotion/relegation playoff against Buenos Aires minnows All Boys. He is currently plying his trade in the Argentine 2nd division, hoping to secure Central a quick return to the Primera División.

It cannot be denied that Figueroa had a disastrous time in the Midlands, but given his impressive scoring record for the Argentina national team, Rosario Central, Cruz Azul, River Plate and Boca Juniors, it seems that Birmingham may have missed out on a few goals when Steve Bruce decided to freeze his new signing out of the first team.

See also



Part of the What ever happened to? series.

8 comments:

  1. He now plays for Malaysian Johor Darul Takzim (neighbouring Singapore) or JDT creating waves of excitement and displaying world class football.
    His professional attitude and leadership is excellent.

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  2. He is now JDT's / Johor's legend (2014/2015). Brought home The Malaysian League cup two years in a row and most impressive AFC cup 2015 Champions.

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