Raul: El Pichichi comes back to Madrid still a Real legend

There will surely be more pressing matters for Real Madrid, as they open up their first season under Carlo Ancelotti, than a friendly with Al Sadd. A late Isco goal and a large slice of fortune was needed to overcome Real Betis on Sunday evening as Ancelotti, just, managed to get his reign off to a winning start, after which it was back to the negotiating table for the Madrid hierarchy as they aim to push through the big-money deal for Gareth Bale.

Qatar Stars League champions Al Sadd will fly into Madrid to contest the 35th edition of the Santiago Bernabeu Trophy with Raul Gonzalez Blanco in tow, the striker’s first return to the Bernabeu since waving the emotional goodbye to Real three years ago. Raul spent two years with Schalke before heading out to the far east for one final payday at the age of 35.

He will captain the Doha-based club for Thursday’s glamour friendly which is designed to honour Madrid’s former long-serving president. It will be an emotional return to a club for whom he scored a club-record 323 goals over a 16 year spell in which he lead Madrid to 6 league titles, 4 Spanish Super cups and 3 Champions League successes. It is the latter competition where he still holds the title for all-time top scorer with a total of 71.

Records were already being shattered on his debut back in 1994. Jorge Valdano, suffering an attacking injury crisis before a match with Real Zaragoza, turned to a teenager who had been discarded from neighbours Athletico Madrid as a youngster.

It was Raul who had shown Valdano too much for the Argentinean coach to ignore and after he hit 16 goals in 9 games for the Madrid C team in 94/95, he was handed 28 appearances for the senior side.

He was aged 17 year and 4 months when he took the field against Zaragoza, becoming the club’s youngest ever player and signalling the demise of Emilio Butragueno’s great career. One brilliant Spanish striker gave way to another, a transition named “the passing of the crown”.

In his next game, an early reunion with Atletico, he scored one and made two more as he made a statement of his talents. Nobody could realistically foretell the greatness he would achieve however, winning his first Don Balon award, for La Liga’s best Spanish player, just two years after his emergence. A quiet season passed in 1998 even though won his first Champions League, but then came another Don Balon in 1999, the first of four in succession. It was his most potent time in Madrid, between 1998 and 2002, he scored 119 goals to register himself among the world’s elite.

By then Raul had won another Champions League and president Florentino Perez was embarking on the Galactico era. In came Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, David Beckham, and out went over £120 million, but in place remained Roberto Carlos, a pre-Perez signing, and the two cantera graduates, Iker Casillas and Raul, who was made captain in 2003.

Players, money, managers and even presidents came and went but in attack stayed Raul, scoring goals. Only in 2005-06, in which he struck 7 goals, did he register under 10 goals in one season during his time with Madrid.

It was a fruitful relationship between club and player that he could not translate to his country. Even after achieving a national record of 44 goals, which has since been passed by David Villa, and succeeding Fernando Hierro as captain in 2002, he was the head of a generation that dealt only in failure.

Major tournaments from 2000 to 2006 bypassed a gifted generation of players of which Raul was the fulcrum, before the likes of Villa and Fernando Torres took a new wave of talent to success at Euro 2008, a tournament from which Raul was omitted by Luis Aragones. It seems unfortunate that a player who enjoyed remarkable success at club level endured disappointment for his country and that part of his career will be held as a mere slideshow to more tangible achievements.

It was a career forged on sheer determination and unerring finishing, a predatory instinct that saw him feed off any space a defender was grateful enough to afford him. Blessed with close control, fine technique and explosive power, he could take a ball in any situation and unleash it into the net with deadly ruthlessness.

They were characteristics that saw Raul register a total of 978 career games and a total of 421 goals at a rate of 0.43 goals per game. It was not Raul’s style to spurn chances. The epitome of his dedication and will to find the net were in effect on his final Madrid game as he hobbled onto a cross from Cristiano Ronaldo, whilst visibly carrying an injury, to slide the ball home with his last ever touch for the club.

He left Madrid for Schalke holding a plethora of records having surpassed both Alfredo Di Stefano as the club’s top goalscorer and Manilo Sanchez as the record league appearance holder. He remains the top currently active La Liga scorer with 228 league goals and a winner of the prestigious Marca Leyanda award back in 2009.

It was all this that earned him, together with Casillas, a “contract for life” in 2008 but after troubles with injury in 2010, it was in July when he announced his trophy-laden, award-riddled time in the Spanish capital would be over.

Lucrative offers from the United States and Qatar came in but Raul chose the Champions League of Schalke and despite a role change from main striker to playing in the gap just behind Klaas Jan-Huntelaar, the goals still flowed and so did the trophies.

Schalke won the DFB Pokal and the DFL-Supercup, as well as reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League, while Raul and Huntelaar struck a deadly partnership, the Spaniard hitting 40 goals in 98 games alongside his Dutch partner who notched 61 goals in the same two year period.

It was testament to his time in Germany that after just two years, Schalke retired his number 7 shirt out of respect for the prolific attacker who concluded his time in Europe by joining Al Sadd. Typically, he scored 9 goals in 22 appearances to win the club their first title in five years and he also became captain, his ability to become an entity that transcends the club has clearly not yet ceased.

He will be back in the Bernabeu for one night of friendly action where he will play a part in a tribute to a man he will surely join in legendary status when his career is looked at with hindsight. It was goals, goals and more goals, all done without the arrogance or hubris that flaws so many of the game’s modern pros or the indiscipline that can fall so many, he has picked up just 13 yellow cards and 0 reds during his career that is now entering its 20th year.

It will be a career that, when glanced back upon, reads a tonne of goals and an array of silverware and individual honours that span far down the page but there will be one glaring absence in his inability to win the Balon D’Or award.

It will not bother Raul too much, a player who has become synonymous with one of the world’s biggest clubs and back on that night in Zaragoza, when he was given the task of inheriting the famous role of Butragueno, it would have been impossible to predict the teenager would go on to achieve so much.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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