Real Madrid is to many fans and players around the world the biggest club in football. They act like it too, by regularly buying the biggest stars in the game and then unleashing them in their magnificent Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, David Beckham, Ronaldo, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and many more; it’s easy to go on for hours naming the foreign superstars to have played for the club. However, you would struggle to name true Spanish greats over the last 15-20 years who has been really influential. Three players come quickly to my mind, Iker Casillas, Fernando Hierro and perhaps the club’s greatest ever player, Raúl González Blanco.
As stated earlier, the Spanish greats who have been really influential for Real is easy to name. Raúl and Casillas of course, Sergio Ramos in recent years and you could make a case for Xabi Alonso’s five years at the club. Going back to the end of the 90’s and beginning of 00’s you would also find the brilliant Fernando Hierro, the goalscoring prowess of Fernando Morientes and the genius of Guti Hernández. There really isn’t anyone else who has consistently been an integral part of a successful team.
It’s baffling that when people discuss the Galáctico team Real had for a period they quickly remember Zidane, Ronaldo, Figo, Beckham, Roberto Carlos and Casillas. If you give them some time to think about it they might mention Raúl, but why isn’t he the first name on peoples minds?
Could it be because of his off-field personality where he didn’t have the celebrity lifestyle of a Beckham or a Cristiano? Could it be because he wasn’t signed for a world-record transfer fee like a Zidane or a Bale? Whatever the reason, this is a player that should be remembered for eternity for his fantastic talent and his unbelievable goalscoring record not only at Real but also all over Spain.
Raúl started out at a little club called San Cristóbal before moving to Atlético Madrid as a 13-year-old. After two years at Atlético he moved to Real Madrid in 1992 and made his first-team debut in 1994 after quickly rising through the C and B team at the club. He became the youngest player in Real Madrid’s history when he made his debut against Zaragoza on 29th October 1994. The following week and game he scored his first goal against, ironically, Atlético Madrid. From this moment on, he never looked back and finished his first season with 10 goals in 30 appearances in all competitions which helped Real win La Liga.
He was top goalscorer in La Liga twice, in 1999 and 2001, scoring 25 and 24 goals respectively. Raúl’s most successful season individually was the 2000-01 season when Real was crowned La Liga winners and Raúl scored 32 goals in 50 appearances in all competitions and he was voted second in the Ballon d’Or voting as Michael Owen was named the best player in the world ahead of his future teammate.
In total, the striker got 323 goals in 741 Real Madrid appearances and when he left Madrid for Schalke in 2010 he had the record for most goals ever in the Champions League, most goals for the Spanish national team and most goals in the history of Real Madrid. He’s also been named the best Spanish player in La Liga on five occasions, more than any other player. With Madrid he won six league titles and three Champions League titles, scoring in the finals in 2000 and 2002.
If you look through a compilation of the goals, you’ll see all type of goals. Headers, flicks, lobs, strikes from distance and cool finishes when one on one with the keeper. Raúl had everything a good striker should have; he was reasonably quick, had great technique, impressive intelligence and jaw-dropping skill. Most importantly, he was a penalty box predator who would always find a way to stick the ball into the back of the net. They’re brilliant goals, scored by an excellent player. After a masterclass by the Spaniard against Manchester United in 2003 when he scored twice in Real’s 3-1 win at the Bernabeu, SIr Alex Ferguson hailed the striker.
‘Raul is so difficult to play against when he starts taking up the positions he did tonight, He always seems to be an outlet for them and we never contained that part. Real Madrid have bought some great players over the last few years but, at the moment, Raul is the best in the world.’
This highlights Raúl’s excellent movement and hold-up play too, further underlining the all-round quality of one of the greatest strikers to grace the game.
Raúl with his trademark celebration, kissing his wedding ring.
Other football greats have had a lot of praise for Raúl too, including Luis Figo, Zidane and Spanish international goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares.
‘I have played with a lot of good players, but Raúl is from another planet, I have never seen such a good player in my whole life.’ Luis Figo.
‘Raúl is the best player in the world. That is all I can say.’ Zinedine Zidane.
‘He’s a nightmare, No one can improvise like him in the penalty box. Some strikers play just the one tune. They’re the easiest for keepers to figure out. Raúl is unreadable. He’ll lob it over you, he’ll send you the wrong way with a little feint, he’ll go wide around you, he’ll hit it hard, he’ll pass it to a team-mate. He has so many different options.’ Santiago Cañizares.
So when younger fans now will learn about the great Real Madrid teams of the late 90’s and early 00’s they will recognize the likes of Zidane, Beckham, Casillas and Figo. The one they should focus on though, is a Spanish striker who came through the ranks at the club and became widely considered by many as the best player in the world, even though he was never presented with the award. Sir Alex Ferguson, Figo and Zidane can’t all be wrong. Raúl still holds the record for most goals for Real Madrid, the most glamorous club in world football, with 323 goals and even though Cristiano Ronaldo will certainly surpass that figure this season it remains an absolutely astonishing achievement. Records are meant to be broken, but Raúl’s legacy at Real will never be forgotten.