The word legend in football is often over used as is the term “World Class”. To be “World Class” you must surely have to be in the top ten if not five in the world in your position. You don’t hear tennis or snooker commentators calling the number 14 in the rankings “World Class” that tends to be saved for the top 2 or 3. Legends on the other hand are used less frequently on a day-to-day basis but are used to describe the best or greatest players of every professional football club. To be a Legend of the biggest and most successful football club in not only Spain but the World takes something special. Raul is just that !
What makes him standout from the rest ? Everything.
Having started his career at city rivals Atletico, the young Raul was forced to move to Real Madrid by the closure of Atletico’s youth team. At the age of just 17 years and 4 months he started as he meant to go on by breaking a record. He became Real’s youngest ever player. In his second game for the club he was part of one of those sub plots which only football can serve up. Scoring in the Madrid derby ! Which was also the perfect way to introduce himself to the fans.
From their onwards he went from strength to strength, scoring 10 goals in his 1st season and helping Real to the La Liga title. Raul would go on to win a further 5 with the club and in his 16 years he scored 20+ goals a season an incredible 9 times. 3 times European Cup winner becoming the 1st player to score in 2 Champions League Finals, one of which was one of the greatest goals to be scored in a final. Holds the records for both top scorer with 63 goals in this competition and appearances.
He is the all time top scorer for Real and there Primera Division top marksman. The 3rd top scorer in La Liga history and their 2nd in appearances. He was made club captain in 2002 and given a contract for life in 2008 as long as he made 30+ appearances a season. 16 trophies in 16 years is not bad is it ?
But perhaps the most remarkable of his records is the fact that Raul was never sent off. But that was the symbol of the man, first to training last to leave. Always time for his fans, a family man who was modest and touched everyone he met, his trademark goal celebration the kissing of his wedding ring as a tribute to his wife.
But two things stand out for me above all else despite all the records, the goals and the fact he is a genuine person in an age of egos and attitudes.
The first is Raul on his day was “World Class” but there were times when he wasn’t playing well, when it appeared as though it was 10 and Raul. Raul went four seasons without going past 11 league goals, three without getting into double figures. There were rumours linking him to other clubs as he just wasn’t the player he used to be, past it and being carried by the others were the cry’s from the media. His performances had dipped even to his biggest of fans, watching through old games confirmed this. Even his team mates had picked up on this and the odd comment to journalists were made, not that they were keen for them to be published mind you. But as just about everyone writ him off the second coming happened ! In 07/08 season he scored 23 goals and in 08/09 he scored 24. The man was reborn, whilst not as one of the worlds best but as an important team player for Real at that time.
The second is that during his time at Los Blanco’s, they could buy just about anybody they wanted. Fans of Chelsea and Manchester City would argue so can they but this is a club that has won the Champions League a record 9 times, to pull on the famous white shirt is more than just money it’s about the history as well. The Galactico era brought in proven players in the elite of football, Ronaldo, Zidane, Figo, Beckham, Anelka, Owen. But Raul was the local Galactico and despite not seeing eye to eye with some of the star names he demonstrated willpower and a strength of character that lesser players would not show. This was hes club and nothing was going to change that. And now in the 2nd period of Galacticos he has seen more egos arrive in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Benzema, but as club captain even the biggest of players didn’t dare attempt to try to take the number 7 shirt from him.
“Throughout the years I have always tried to stay true to the values of Real Madrid. Today more than ever before I want everyone to know that I tried to give my very best in every play, every dribble, every shot and every gesture on the pitch. That is what Real Madrid is to me, and that is why the word surrender never existed in my head.”
From his farewell speech, he thanked just about everyone he possibly could.
In a further testament to the player even Barcelona fans paid tribute to the man. Would Man United fans pay tribute to Steven Gerrard when he leaves Liverpool or vice versa with Giggs or Rooney ? I don’t think so.
Their will never be another player quite like Raul Gonzalez Blanco – A Proper Legend in every sense of the words !!!