He had seen the photos, but on Thursday morning at the Lake Club Grande Clubhouse, soccer legend Luis Figo experienced Lakewood Ranch for the first time.
"When you come in, you can see it's a beautiful place," said Figo, the former Portuguese superstar who held a press conference Thursday to promote his youth European Showcase by Figo tournament that will run Nov. 11-12 at Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch.
"My partners (in European Showcase by Figo) are based in Florida and they know the region. They found this beautiful place."
The tournament, which is expected to attract more than 400 teams of boys and girls ages 8 to 18, is a windfall for Premier Sports Campus and the area.
Antonio Saviano, Premier's director of sports who grew up in Italy playing soccer, was bubbling over with excitement.
"This is one of the most famous people of the soccer world," Saviano said before introducing Figo.
Saviano expects the exposure of hosting a tournament aligned with Figo to draw attention to Premier and eventually prompt more tournaments to visit the area. For businesses in the Lakewood Ranch area, it means more tourist dollars.
"This is so exciting because I have watched Premier develop and grow," said Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh. "We've been fortunate to see so many changes. This is international exposure for Lakewood Ranch."
Vigo said his main intention was to create a tournament, which is expected to draw a few teams from Europe and South America as well as U.S. squads, that would help kids gain passion for the game and eventually gain exposure so they could be discovered by scouts.
"We want to give visibility to these kids," he said. "When you play in the streets, you never have the chance to be seen by the scouts. We want to give them an opportunity to show their talent. And I wanted to give back to the soccer community my experience.
"We will start with tournaments and then we will form partnerships with clubs to help them improved. We want to bring coaches to help develop programs. We want to give more chances to kids to develop. I have the best of intentions."
Figo, 43, was the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2001, beating out David Beckham.