On a brisk late October evening in 2015 in front of a packed Bernabeu crowd, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo collected the ball around five meters from the edge of the box, took a few side steps to his right and fired a shot past the diving Levante goalkeeper Ruben to put his side 2-0 up. The significance of this goal was not lost on a man sitting watching the game some 5,764km away. Its been a long time since Raul Gonzalez Blanco, better known simply as Raul was the star player scoring goals for fun for Madrid in that same stadium but it didn’t stop him from standing to applaud the current captain and new club record goalscorer. That strike was Ronaldo’s 324th for the Spanish club which lifted him one above the former holder of the record, Raul. The Portuguese star needed only 310 games over seven seasons to reach that tally whilst it took Raul over 16 years and 741 games to reach the same benchmark. Raul knew that this day would come eventually much as he knew that one day he would have to retire from the game he loved and that had brought him so much joy. That day has come as Raul, now with the New York Cosmos in the NASL gets set to play his final game this Sunday against Ottawa Fury at the James M Shuart Stadium which has been his home for the past two years.
The result of that game or whether he will play the full ninety minutes and indeed score does not matter as Raul’s legacy is already safe and secure. Regarded as one of the greatest Spanish players of all time, his retirement at the age of 38 ends one of the most distinguished playing careers of the last century. Raul’s impact on the game, especially at Real Madrid will live on in the history books and is firmly etched in the minds of the fans he entertained both at the clubs he played for and those who played against him. Born to score goals, Raul was always destined to be a success and those who saw him early on in his life knew that it was only a matter of time. At youth level for Real Madrid he excelled so quickly (13 goals in seven games) that the then first team coach Jorge Valdano had no choice but to promote him to his squad. At 17 years old, Raul became the clubs youngest ever starter ( a record now held by Martin Odegaard) and before long was repaying Valdano for the opportunity with goals. Over the next 15 years, Raul became an indispensable member of the Real Madrid team contributing in a variety of different ways not just with goals but also later as a leader and captain helping new signings to adapt and youth players to integrate into the side. Along the way he picked up 6 La Liga titles, 3 Champions Leagues and a host of other club and individual trophies including five La Liga Best Spanish Player awards.
His departure from Madrid in 2010 was tough to take with fans pleading with the club not to let him go. But with new strikers coming in and Raul’s playing time dramatically reducing, he took the opportunity to bid farewell and joined German side Schalke for what was expected to be one final swan song. In Germany, Raul recapture his form and goalscoring prowess that made him so unstoppable for some many years in La Liga. He spent two seasons with the Royal Blues helping them to win the German Cup and Super Cup in 2011 as well as scoring several key goals which helped Schalke progress to the semi finals of the Champions League. Next followed a move to Al Sadd which proved less than fruitful with Raul scoring only 11 times in 39 games for the Qatari based club. He had originally intended to retire at the end of the 2014 season but was persuaded to hold off and instead join the New York Cosmos for one final year. That turned into two seasons and an a few more trophies including the Woosnam Cup in 2015 before Raul finally decided enough was enough.
The greatest travesty concerning Raul is that he missed out on Spain’s finest hour in recent years when they won the 2008 European Championships. He had lost his place to the pairing of David Villa and Fernando Torres shortly after the 2006 World Cup and would never regain it falling out of favour with Luis Aragones who strangely selected Real Zaragoza’s Sergio Garcia ahead of Raul for the Euros in Austria and Switzerland. There were protests in Spain at the decision especially given the fact that Raul had returned to form with Real and was their top goalscorer that campaign with 18 goals. But Aragones would not be persuaded and Raul missed out, much to the dismay of the player and the Spanish fans. Regardless of this, Raul is and forever will be a Spanish legend. With 102 caps and 44 goals to his name, he is the eight most capped player and third highest goalscorer for Spain. At Real, he holds the record for the most appearances with 741 in total including 550 in La Liga, another club record. He may no longer be Real’s top goalscorer with Ronaldo now in that role but he will always be considered one of the very best players ever to pull on that famous white shirt.
Check out some of Raul’s best goals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ov18UMkHLn4