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Legends in Review – Raúl

Spanish striker Raúl was one of the greatest goalscorers of his generation. He was a world-renowned poacher, often popping up in the right place at the right time during an attack to finishing with lethal consistency.

The striker’s ability to find the net was unrivalled and his affinity with Real Madrid endeared him to the fans. He became one of the most legendary players to ever represent Los Blancos in his 16 years with the club.

Raúl’s goalscoring exploits broke records in domestic, European and international football and he retired as one of the greatest players in world football.

Raúl – The Early Days

Raúl was born in San Cristóbal de los Ángeles, Madrid, in June 1977 and showed a passion for football from a young age, playing for a local youth team before catching the eye of Atlético Madrid.

Raúl played for Atlético at various youth levels. But his career-defining move to Real Madrid, Atlético’s fierce city rivals, came in the 1992/92 season when Los Blancos signed the talented youngster at 16 years old.

In his first season with Real, Raúl scored an impressive 13 goals in seven games. This form drew attention from first-team manager Jorge Valdano, who gave the striker his debut in the following season. The rest was history and Raúl began a sensational career at Madrid at the age of 17.

Real Madrid – 741 Appearances – 324 Goals

Raúl made his debut in October 1994 and, a week after his first appearance, he featured in the Madrid derby against his former club, Atlético Madrid. But such an occasion did not faze the young star. Madrid’s new super striker scored in a 4-2 win over their rivals, which set the tone for the next 16 years of his career.

In the 1994/95 season, Raúl made 28 La Liga appearances and scored nine goals in total, helping Los Blancos to win the league title. Many more domestic honours followed for the Spanish attacker and he finished his Madrid career with six La Liga titles. In addition to his team honours, Raúl won two top-scorer awards and five Spanish Player of the Year awards, four of which he won consecutively between 1999 and 2002.

Raúl’s exceptional goal-scoring ability for Madrid extended into the Champions League. He won the competition three times with Madrid and scored 10 goals in the competition in the 1999/00 season. After scoring in both the 2000 and 2002 Champions League finals, Raúl became the first-ever player to score in two finals in the competition.

In 2005, he became the first player to ever reach 50 goals in the elite competition. The Spaniard scored in a 2-1 win over Olympiacos. Shortly after this incredible feat, he became the first player to reach 100 appearances in the Champions League.

Raúl broke a long-standing Madrid record as the club’s highest-ever goal-scorer when he scored against Sporting de Gijón, overtaking legend Alfredo Di Stéfano, The Real stalwart was nicknamed El Capitan due to his longevity as captain for Los Blancos.

He eventually left the club in 2010 after recurring injuries limited his playing time in previous seasons. Raúl left as the club’s highest-ever goalscorer.

FC Schalke 04 – 98 Appearances – 40 Goals

In July 2010, Raúl joined German team Schalke on a two-year contract, despite rumours he would see out the remainder of his career in the U.S or the Middle East. He continued his excellent form in front of goal for the Bundesliga side during the 2010/11 season, ending the campaign with 19 goals in all competitions, including five in the Champions League. The prolific goal-scorer also helped Schalke to win the German Cup, despite only scoring one goal in the competition.

Raúl played his final season in Europe in 2011/12 and was still scoring with incredible regularity. He bettered his 18 goals in the previous season, scoring 21 for Schalke and scored for in the Europa League, finishing with 77 goals in European competitions throughout his career. He announced that he would leave the German club in June 2012, expressing a desire to end his career away from European football after nearly 20 years playing in the continent.

Al-Saad SC – 44 Appearances – 11 Goals

Raúl signed for Qatari side Al-Saad for two seasons in the twilight of his career. It was a change of pace for the veteran striker but he still continued as a serial winner in the Middle East.

Between 2012 and 2014, Raúl captained the team on numerous occasions and won both the Sheikh Jassem Cup in 2012 and the Qatari league in 2013. The Spanish stalwart was also awarded the league’s Fair Play Award in post-season, 2013.

New York Cosmos – 32 Appearances – 9 Goals

One final move for Raúl came in 2014 when he joined U.S team New York Cosmos. He only played for the club four times in 2014 and made further appearances in 2015. The regularity of Raúl’s goal-scoring slowed during his time in the U.S and he played one season for the club before announcing his retirement in 2015, bringing an end to his 21 year career.

Spain National Team – 103 Appearances – 44 Goals

Raúl made over 100 appearances for the Spain national team and captained the team for many years between 1996 and 2006.

Despite scoring 44 goals for Spain, Raúl’s influence did not extend to the major tournaments during his international career. In 18 appearances in World Cups and European Championships, the striker only managed to score six times and only progressed as far as the quarter-final in Japan and South Korea in 2002 – a match where he was an unused substitute.

Style of Play

It is rare to see footballers perform at the level Raúl did over such a long period of time. His natural ability to score goals of all types (headers, tap-ins, long range strikes and penalties) has never been emulated and his talent was reflected in the amount of goals he score in football’s most elite competitions.

While he was not the most quick, most athletic or tallest striker around, Raúl’s football intelligence to take up threatening positions and to pressurise the opposition was second to none. His work rate was also exceptional and he was a player who led his club teams and the Spanish national team by example when he took to the field.

Football Legacy

Raúl’s leadership qualities have been used as inspiration by many professional football teams. Leicester City has cited the ‘Eternal Leader’ as one of their examples to play by, while Schalke referred to Raúl as one of the greatest, even after he left the club.

Since retiring, Raúl has passed on his footballing wisdom to the younger players at Real Madrid, he previously managed the under-15 side at the club’s prestigious football academy but took charge of Los Blancos‘ B-team, Real Madrid Castilla, in 2019.