There have been many players in the modern game that have shown extreme loyalty to one club. Francesco Totti at Roma, Paulo Maldini at Milan and Gary Neville at Manchester United – these are men where it has never been about the contract, just the badge on the shirt.
Raul Gonzalez Blanco was always going to be a Real Madrid player. It’s in his name. Originally part of the Atletico Madrid youth system, the Spaniard swapped allegiances when the academy was shut down in order to save money. The love affair had begun.
Aged only seventeen, the young striker scored sixteen in ten appearances for the Real Madrid C and B teams, a feat that soon came to the attention of then manager Jorge Valdano. Aged only seventeen and four months, he made his full professional debut for Los Blancos first team, the youngest ever to do so. Scoring on his Bernabau debut, against city rivals and old club Atletico, he instantly became a fans favourite.
That season Real Madrid won the Spanish title and Raul never looked back.
Over the course of his 16 year Real Madrid career, Raul went on to win almost everything bar the Nobel Peace Prize. Take a look in his trophy cabinet and you will see six La Liga titles, three Champions League winners’ medals and four Spanish Super Cups. He has captained club and country (replacing Fernando Hierro for both) and is also the current leading goal scorer in all UEFA competitions, with a staggering 71 goals to his name.
Raul has scored in two Champions League finals and has never once been issued a red card; a predator in front of goal he may be, but a fair and respectful one at that. Part of the infamous ‘Los Galaticos’, Raul played alongside the likes of Zidane, Beckham, Ronaldo and Figo. It didn’t matter who became the next ‘star’ of Real; his profound loyalty and never-say-die attitude cemented him as the fans’ talisman. A rarity in an age of inflated egos and transfer fees, Raul became the player that every fan wants their team to have.
Every football fan has lasting memories of club legends – Raul has made himself one at Real Madrid. Something as simple as playing for the love of the club sits more significant than any of his impressive statistics. Many around him have come and gone, too consumed with the overwhelming desire of self success. Raul simply played because it is exactly where he wanted to be.
All in all, the forward played 741 times for Real Madrid making him the club’s record appearance holder to this day. Netting 323 times, he surpassed the great Alfredo Di Stefano to top the goal-scoring charts. The list of achievements on his CV is nothing short of astounding.
Neither is the way he plays the game. In his prime, Raul showed amazing grace and poise in front of goal. Watch any YouTube (see video below) tribute on him and it will be an example of a full goal-scoring package. Headers, weaker foot, first time efforts, beating the defender, fancy flicks – they’re all there. All with the familiar celebration of kissing the wedding ring, out of respect for his wife; an assassin on the field but a romantic off it.
Frighteningly good at always finding himself in the right place, the Spanish striker made it look easy. One of the greatest natural goal scorers of all time, the transition from club to international football was refined and assured. Perhaps unlucky that his peak didn’t coincide with the current ‘golden generation’ of Spanish football, Raul made over one hundred appearances for his country and notched 44 goals. To play and score consistently for both club and country marks a true great of the game, particularly when you consider that modern day stars such as the Messi’s and Rooney’s often struggle to emulate club form on the international stage.
However, the old proverb states that all good things must come to an end. In July 2010, Raul moved to Bundesliga side Schalke 04, leaving behind one of the most emphatic and impressive legacies that the football world has experienced.
It would be fair to say that, wherever Raul ended up, nothing would ever come close to the time he spent in Madrid. There is no doubt, however, that his quality still remains. Having played only 32 games for Schalke he has found the net 13 times, including scoring two hat-tricks. At the age of 33, his time is not over yet.
In a week where his old team-mate (and perhaps one of football’s all time greatest strikers) Ronaldo called it a day, Raul was still busy breaking records. His 69th Champions League goal in Valencia made him the all time leading goal-scorer in UEFA competitions.
The journey with Real may have ended abruptly, but one thing that will never end for Raul is the respect and desire that many football fans feel for him.
According to the old proverb, all good things come to an end. In Raul’s case, his legacy will remain part of the football world for a good few years to come.
Raul, still showing his class in Germany:
By Robert Bartlett – Grimsby Town fan