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Schalke set the stage for Raul's fitting finale

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Jonathan Stevenson | 09:16 UK time, Tuesday, 19 October 2010

A day after Real Madrid and AC Milan meet in the salubrious surrounds of the Santiago Bernabeu, one of the Spanish giants' favourite sons will don his Champions League boots for the 133rd time. But rather than turning out in the brilliant white of Real, this time he will be wearing another team's colours.

When Germans Schalke play host to Hapoel Tel-Aviv on Wednesday, they will be relying on the legendary figure of Raul Gonzalez Blanco, the tournament's record appearance-maker and goalscorer (66) to kick-start their so far sluggish season.

For Raul, playing in a struggling side is not something he is accustomed to; this, after all, is a man who can lay claim to one of the most glittering CVs in club football. Since winning La Liga in his first season in the Real team in 1994-95, he has added six more league titles, three Champions Leagues, two Intercontinental Cups, one European Super Cup and two Pichichi awards for top scorer in La Liga.

Yet after 16 years as a Real icon, in the summer the 33-year-old decided to up sticks and spend the denouement to his record-breaking career in the Bundesliga, signing a two-year contract with Schalke and risking his reputation in arguably the most competitive league in Europe.

Granted an interview with the man still referred to as 'El Angel del Madrid' in his birthplace, I asked Raul to explain how he had ended up in Gelsenkirchen, the so-called 'city of a thousand fires'. "I came to Schalke because the manager Felix Magath convinced me," he said matter-of-factly.

"He's a very good coach and I like his philosophy. During our discussions I got the feeling he really wanted to sign me and sensing this trust is extremely important."

That belief has already been tested after a brutal baptism of fire in the Bundesliga for Raul, who saw David Villa draw level with him on a record 44 goals for the Spanish national team last week.

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Ten games into his Schalke career, the highest scorer in Real Madrid's history with 323 goals has only a solitary strike, against Borussia Moenchengladbach, to show for his efforts, with the Royal Blues languishing one point off the bottom of the league.

But there is no doubt in Raul's mind he made the right decision. "It's obviously a totally new experience for me - a new club, a new country, a new league," he told me. "But I made a very conscious decision because I wanted to play abroad after Real.

"The Bundesliga is a very strong league and there are no easy games here. Just look at Mainz - they are a really young team who are causing a sensation and they went away and won at reigning champions Bayern Munich. That's what makes the league so fascinating.

"You've then got the superb stadia and the atmosphere too. The grounds are always full and the noise is superb, the fans are incredible and we get fantastic support whether we are at home or away."

I get the sense from Raul that a feeling of belonging, of being happy at Schalke is almost as key to him as the on-pitch success to which he eventually hopes to lead his new team.

After all, this is a man who was granted a news conference to announce he was leaving Real in July. With tears in his eyes he walked around the Bernabeu one last time and bade the club he had served for so long, and with such distinction, a final farewell.

President Florentino Perez, so fond of a 'Galactico' he would surely have bought Raul had the club not taken him in as a 15-year-old, summed up the feelings of most Madridistas: "There are a lot of men who are part of the history of Real Madrid. Raul has earned his place in the club's history with his tireless work and his infinite love and support for everything that's Real Madrid.

"I hope that all the players who will join Real Madrid in the future fit the legacy that Raul has left behind at this team. Raul represents everything that this club's about. He perfectly represents the spirit of Real Madrid."

All of which underlines the risk Raul was taking in prolonging his career away from a club he had become so inextricably linked to. He admits he had to think about the move for a long time before committing to Magath's vision, while some of Europe's most ambitious clubs circled the striker like vultures.

Tottenham were mooted to be especially keen, but Schalke were always at the top of Raul's list. "I felt it would be an important experience to get to know a new country, a new culture and a new mentality," he explains. "My family and I gave it a lot of thought and we are keen to sample everything that's new about life in Germany.

"I feel very much at home at the club, the people here are very attentive and very open and I like that. My family and I have settled very well, we have been made to feel welcome everywhere so far."

In fact, the only thing missing in the latest chapter of his story is a winning football team. It appeared as though Raul was hinting at a fairytale finale when he produced a moment of sublime magic to scoop a shot into the Bayern net in a pre-season friendly, but so far that has been a rare highlight of his spell at the Veltins-Arena.

Raul has not had much to celebrate during his time at Schalke thus far. Photo: Reuters

Raul has not had much to celebrate during his time at Schalke thus far. Photo: Reuters

Schalke finished second last season, the fourth time in 10 campaigns they have been frustrated runners-up, but in the summer Magath ordered a complete overhaul of the playing staff.

Fifteen players were shown the exit door, including defender Heiko Westermann and striker Kevin Kuranyi, while 14 new ones came in, with Raul joined by, among others, German centre-back Christoph Metzelder, Spanish midfielder Jose Manuel Jurado and Dutch forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Until now Magath's revamp has failed to produce positive results, but this is a coach who won two German league and cup Doubles in his time as Bayern boss and led Wolfsburg to their maiden Bundesliga in 2009, so perhaps Raul - who saw his manager change 17 times in 16 years at Real - is right to give his new boss a chance.

"Schalke have been waiting a long time to win the league [1958, before the Bundesliga was formed] and it would obviously be great if we could do it," he says. "But we have to take each game as it comes.

"We've made a bad start in the league and we need to make up ground as quickly as possible on the teams above us in the table. But things are improving on the pitch and we have a very good coach, so we will continue to get better."

Despite their stuttering start, Raul is clearly proud of the new path he has chosen for his career. In fact the only thing he is not that interested in talking about is Real Madrid, but having spent half his life as a symbol of one of the world's biggest clubs, you can forgive him for wanting to distance himself from his old employers.

He admits he keeps "in touch with what is happening at Real, of course", but says he is not "giving any thought to [manager] Jose Mourinho and his work". I ask him if Mourinho is the man to end Barcelona's period of dominance in La Liga. "I couldn't tell you. I'm totally focused on the Bundesliga," comes the now half-expected reply.

Even over a short interview, it is easy to see why Raul has a reputation as one of the most consummate professionals of his generation. Whether the Spaniard's Schalke sojourn is a success or a failure there is no doubt he will give it his heart and soul, as he has done at the highest level for more than a decade-and-a-half.

There aren't many players who have been dubbed the 'best player in the world' by Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, as Raul was after masterminding a 3-1 win for Real in 2003. One should not forget that that particular game also featured the stellar talents of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and the Brazilian Ronaldo.

But then footballers like Raul don't come along very often. We should enjoy watching him before he hangs up those legendary boots for good.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Raul is for me up there as one of the best european strikers of our generation. Utmost respect for the ledgend that is Raul.

  • Comment number 2.

    *legend :)

  • Comment number 3.

    Probably a mistake to go to one of the most physically powerful leagues in the world, at the end of his career, when what little pace he had is diminishing.
    But this shouldn't detract from the superb career the guy has had, always staving off the new, expensive signings that were due to replace him at Real, and seeing off countless managers.
    Fair play to the guy.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    Raul, a decent striker, a good goalscorer. A great player? Not really.

    A Michael Owen really. Great mentality as one of his key strengths rather than amazing ability.

    His records owe to the fact he came in for Real and Spain at an early age, and managed to avoid serious injuries throughout his career.

    Not likely to win games single handedly, but always likely to nick a goal

  • Comment number 6.

    its a shame we didnt get to see him more on the international stage, he would have added a lot in the 06 WC imo

  • Comment number 7.

    Interesting blog Jonathan and you might be right in suggesting the Bundesliga may be the most competitive league in Europe although Bayern inevitably seem to win it most times, but I don't think Schalke is a fitting stage for Raul's finale.

    You can't help wondering the effect of pairing the great man up with Fernando Torres at Liverpool might have had if things had been different? On paper that looked the perfect fit in so many way.

    Perez' comment: "I hope that all the players who will join Real Madrid in the future fit the legacy that Raul has left behind at this team. Raul represents everything that this club's about. He perfectly represents the spirit of Real Madrid." This seems totally contrary to him buying all those foreign mercenaries or galacticos and whilst Raul would be the model 'home-town' pro a club aspires to produce regularly it rarely happens...so the arguement is a bit hollow.

  • Comment number 8.

    pure class

  • Comment number 9.

    Raul was once described as being 7 out of 10 for most attributes, think it might have been Guilleme Balague that said it, 7 out of 10 for heading, finishing, pace, strength etc...not especially outstanding for and particular attribute but solid in everything, and i think that sums up Raul quite well, his intelligence on the pitch was where he stood out for me, always new when to make the correct runs etc, and at the end of the day 66 CL goals speak for themselves, as does his trophy cabinet. Good Luck to him, one of the strikers of our generation, will be sad when he finally does hang up the boots.

  • Comment number 10.

    At his peak one of the best strikers in Europe, but not one of the best of all time. After the pressures of playing in Madrid, I think it's fair enough that he sees out his career with a different experience.

    http://footballfutbolfitba.wordpress.com/

  • Comment number 11.

    Great commoitted player and finisher etc but what always impressed me about Raul was his Sportmanship and Integrity on the pitch and his loyalty to one club when seeing so many managers come and go.

  • Comment number 12.

    "Fifteen players were shown the exit door, including goalkeeper Heiko Westermann"

    Erm, I think you'll find that Westermann is a centre-back who has since moved to Hamburger SV.

  • Comment number 13.

    I don't know what defines a great player, but I think Raul is underrated because he has spent most of his career with one club.

    I think the likes of Raul, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Alessandro Del Piero are underrated because unlike players such as Zidane, both Ronaldos, Shevchenko, Figo and Nedved they weren't transferred for vast sums of money. They get taken for granted somewhat.

  • Comment number 14.

    What a great player. I agree with a previous post that Germany is a risky place to go as he starts to lose his sparkle - but it's a testament to his ambition even at his age that he went to a tough league rather than either retire (he still has a lot to offer most clubs) or go to either MLS or even Qatar etc... which would been a bit of a Roberto Carlos cop-out.

    Halcyon days of watching the likes of Hierro, Helguera, Raul, Morientes, a young Guti etc... when I used to like Real Madrid.

  • Comment number 15.

    his footballing intelligence is his greatest asset as a football. Good technique too. His "spoon" finishes are my favourite !

    After "that" 3-1 win over Man utd, Raul was struck down with appendictis (and suffered the first lay off of his professional career). I, like many others, believe Raul was NEVER the same player after this...
    I tend to think of the Raul from (1994-2003) as a great player, and the Raul form (2003-present) as one who was quite often carried by his team, and selected on name and reputation. Also, in his later years at madrid he had far too much influence in the dressing room (Aragones rightly saw this happeneing with Spain, and stopped selecting him after the 2006 WC)

  • Comment number 16.

    Carlos hardly copped-out. He subsequently moved to Fenerbahçe and is now back in Brazil with Corinthians. How dare you lambaste the great one.

  • Comment number 17.

    Good blog, interesting subject matter and not at all sensationalist; are you listening Mr McChiefwriter?
    I'll forgive you the Westermann mistake, he's a centre-back, as I have always admired Raul and everything that used to be so good and charming with Real Madrid. The chequebook has kind of taken over now, and with it has gone the appeal of a good, Spanish-core team that used to feature guys like Hierro, Guti, Salgado when they were quality!
    Interesting how Raul opted for Germany, I'm a Spurs man and would have loved to have seen him down the Lane with Van der Vaart, he'd be the guile to get on the end of Rafa's creativity and we'd have scored a few more too! Thinking logically, which he had to do for his family, Germany was probably the right option- an exciting, unpredictable league, dare I say a better modern culture and a little less press intrusion into what brand of bread you just bought and what colour your wife's nails are today!
    Oh and finally, am I the only one to think Kuranyi was over-rated- no goals without quality service?

  • Comment number 18.

    Good article. Raul is a quality player and his achievements in the game cannot be questioned. One tiny thing though - "Fifteen players were shown the exit door, including goalkeeper Heiko Westermann." Heiko Westermann is a centre-back.

  • Comment number 19.

    schlalala schlalala schalke null vierrr. To me though schalke have lost 3 important players westermann(centre back) rafinha one of the best attacking full backs and kuranyi their main goalscorer. Hopefully we will be stronger and get back to winning ways. Raul has been quiet and is yet to convince die schalker.

  • Comment number 20.

    As a Schalke fan I was delighted when we signed Raúl, so far though I've been far from impressed, he's must a few sitters and hasn't played that well in any match this season. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on the other hand has been great. Raúl needs to be dropped to be honest, the only problem is there's no one really to step up, Edu and Jendrisek aren't good enough.

  • Comment number 21.

    " ...am I the only one to think Kuranyi was over-rated- no goals without quality service?"
    -------------------------------------------------------------
    No, the German national manager Loew agrees with you.
    Kuranyi was very good in his last year for Schalke in his role as a target man - physically strong, excellent with headers, cold-blooded finisher. And he has already made quite an impression at his new club in Russia, Dynamo Moscow.

  • Comment number 22.

    Thanks for your comments - and apologies for the Heiko Westermann error, I've corrected it to save myself further humiliation.

    Someone Less Imaginative Stole My Username - Interesting point. I wonder how much those four would have gone for about 10 years ago.

    pekster11 - I guess he'd been lucky to avoid injuries before then, but yeah, there was a definite difference. It almost seemed like he was bigger than any manager who came in in the last few years, that any new manager at Real had to accommodate Raul as his first task.

    Schalke fans - Would you really drop Raul? Do you think because your team is a work in progress you can't afford to have him in the team? Do you think he's a luxury?

    Maybe when the team starts to gel a bit and creates more chances, then Raul will show his undoubted class?

  • Comment number 23.

    JoC says, "I don't think Schalke is a fitting stage for Raul's finale."

    I think this view is misplaced. The passion of the Bundesliga and its supporters should not be underestimated. Attendances are high and as for the intense rivalry between those cities of the northern Rhine, Gelsenkirchen and Dortmund, it matches, if not beats, any similar EPL sentiment. It's enough to say that the residents of Gelsenkirchen who support Schalke refer to Dortmund as die Verbotenstadt (Forbidden City) and will neither speak its name nor visit it.

    Schalke is very much a sufficiently elevated stage for Raul to conclude his career.

  • Comment number 24.

    Raul is everything that is right about football. Nobody who dreamed of being a footballer when they grew up could read about his career without the hairs rising on the back of your neck. Playing for the club you love would be enough for me, but becoming a legend, top scorer, countless trophy, unbelievable. Even someone like Perez realises Clubs like Madrid need players like Raul, embodying the spirit of the club, giving young players somebody to look up to (Gerrard, David Weir, Graham Alexander, Giggs, consummate professionals). I would give anything to have been Raul for a day during his peak.

  • Comment number 25.

    In my opinion Raul is one of the best strikers I have seen a master of his trade.

    Under rated Definately not.........there is so many people who consider him to be one of the best strikers around in the last 10years.

    As for average or compared to Michael owen....Just look at the trophies he has won and his statistics that will clear that one up.

    Totally agree with the choice to join a German league that is the most competitive i have seen ever being a tough choice but im sure there were many factors in his move.

    Glad he didnt choose Tottenham and have his career go down hill and not be remembered for the player he was ala Shevchenko.

  • Comment number 26.

    @post 23.
    Quite agree, I watch Bundesliga games live on cable every week and the atmosphere is fantastic for most games and played in front of a lot of full houses over 60,000 capacity.
    I also like the fact the players stay on the pitch to celebrate with the fans....unlike in EPL where the majority are down the tunnel before the officials

  • Comment number 27.

    Very respectful piece on a once great player. Like pekster11 mentioned his career is split in two clearly defined eras: the golden years, and to borrow and English term, the rubbish years.

    Many madridistas like myself came to the inevitable conclusion that this man was a well connected, mostly selfish, record seeking, and a bad teammate years ago; not coincidentally around the same time Real started to underachieve in la Liga but specially in Europe.

    It's no secret he was not earning his place in the team but merely was politicking for it with the help of all his media/club connections the last several seasons to the detriment of younger more talented players.

    Jonathan as proof of his undying love for the club that paid his superstar salary these last years the man demanded this season wages in full, supposedly including objectives. No, I'm not joking. He got paid by Real and Schalke both for this season.

    Ps. The reason he's at Schalke? He (probably) wants to beat Muller's all time European scoring record and needed a Champions League stage club for him to do it, minus the competition for his spot.

    Pps. Cleofis that's how he's played for the better part of the last 4-6 years. That's the reason he got banished from the national squad.

  • Comment number 28.

    25- Signori
    What makes you think at the age of 33 and in the current climate that a move to Spurs is 'downhill'? Wash your mouth out son! And Shevchenko has nowt to do with Spurs but simply the fact that he, and Rebrov, and to a large extent Pavlyuchenko until recently, have proven that the Eastern European/Russian leagues are vastly different to the Premier League. It's a case of adaptability, and Sheva didn't have that.

  • Comment number 29.

    it will always be raulsmadrid !!

  • Comment number 30.

    Not likely to win games single handedly, someone said. What about when he punched the ball into the net to give Real Madrid a 3-2 win over Leeds in a CL game? In that moment, he lost all credibility with me, and I am never impressed by his "record" CL goal tally because it is tainted.

  • Comment number 31.

    Raúl has, to me, always seemed to be the victim of unnecessary criticism in the English media, and it's such a shame given his professional attitude and approach to the game. I can't remember anyone with such a glittering reputation in world football who worked so hard on and off the pitch. He is an icon for all the right reasons: workrate, mental strength, commitment, not forgetting talent and an uncanny nack of finding the net. All young footballers aspiring to reach the top should adopt Raúl as a role model, that's for sure.

  • Comment number 32.

    Good, yes. Great, no.
    For the past 5 years he's done nothing special for Madrid and was becoming a bit of an embarrassment.
    He was certainly not at the level of the Galacticos: Ronaldo, Figo, Zidane and Roberto Carlos. Technically, he was limited and his one big skill was as a taker of chances "un raton del area" - a mouse in the box, living off his instinct. But once he lost that extra yard of pace he had nothing to fall back on.
    In his last few years there were rumours that his strong character was an unsettling force in the dressing room and it's said that Villa refused to come to Madrid while ever Raúl was there. It was noticeable that Spain's results and performance increased when he wasn't playing. The same has been true of Madrid this season. Some even suggest that Mourinho's acceptance of the job was on condition that Raúl left.

    I knew somebody who played alonside him knew him personally and he told me that he wasn't what he appeared. He didn't eloborate, but apparently behind the sweet shy public image he had a strong personality that wasn't to everybody's liking.

  • Comment number 33.

    raul is an icon, very comparable to del piero at juve, allround players that ive enjoyed watching and still do, tho raul is still adjusting i hope, cause he hasnt shined much at schalke yet, you can see they have alot of new players and are still getting to know each other

  • Comment number 34.

    codzie85

    well done on your champions league Qualification but lets not get carried away! Madrid to Tottenham...........coming on for Crouch or behind keane in the pecking order...........Its plain to see why he chose germany to gain 1st team football, plus i would rather live in Schalke than Tottenham.

    As for some of the things above are laughable..........i know a friend of a friend who met rauls dog and he wasnt what he seemed....please, you can do better than this.

    Raul has sadly tarnished his career by satying in the spotlight of madrid while not playing well at all. the fact of the matter is ask any pro footballer and they will talk about his ability to score goals. The guy is a natural born finisher and the King of madrid.......Little rumours you read hear and there from 'sources' about him doing this and that will not take away the mans trophies and sucess.

    I celebrate the guys achievements and for me will go down as one of the great goalscorers of this generation.

    R.Carlos more of a Galactico than Raul..........Please!

  • Comment number 35.

    5. At 09:27am on 19 Oct 2010, tomefccam wrote:
    Raul, a decent striker, a good goalscorer. A great player? Not really.

    A Michael Owen really. Great mentality as one of his key strengths rather than amazing ability.

    His records owe to the fact he came in for Real and Spain at an early age, and managed to avoid serious injuries throughout his career.

    Not likely to win games single handedly, but always likely to nick a goal

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------
    shut up. you obviously know nothing about football. raul was and is a legend. he had the touch, the finish, and most importantly, the determination to play in one of the best leagues in the world.

  • Comment number 36.

    i,ve been a Königs Blaue since 1969,and just because he hasn,t performed miracle,s lots of self or so called experts,have written him off.For me Raul is the most important signing for S04 in all this time.We have had good players before but no one with his class.He is a team player who works for the team,and his goals will come,i have Bet on it.!

  • Comment number 37.

    "...plus i would rather live in Schalke than Tottenham"
    ----------------------------------------------------------
    Schalke is a district of Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr valley, one of the most unpleasant and ugly places in Germany.

  • Comment number 38.

    A wonderful player, which I have sadly never had the plesure of seeing first hand. Cant believe there have been posts on here disbuting this man's qualities on a football pitch.

    An icon in a time where this game has sadly produced very few players with the loyalty and ability that Raul has shown over the years.

  • Comment number 39.

    raul isn't the problem @ schalke, he's part of the solution. the problem is the club missed a BIG opportunity and did not do good business on a few accounts. letting holtby and the young peruvian go were disasters as is metzelder, though the latter maybe had to come w/ the raul deal he could still play a role and help from the bench. @ the moment he is hurting them. westermann should be the defensive leader after learning under bordon the least years his departure another bad decision there so things will take longer. the heart & soul of the team in front & back are gone : (

  • Comment number 40.

    To the person who compared Raul to Michael Owen - possibly the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.

    Raul - pure class. A great, wonderful footballer with a superb goalscoring record for club and country. It doesn't get much better than that.

  • Comment number 41.

    tommythetank, his last two full seasons before last year when he was just used as a sub. Hardly an embarrassment.

    League Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
    2007–08 37 18 1 0 8 5 46 23
    2008–09 37 18 1 3 7 3 45 24

  • Comment number 42.

    I Had the honor of visiting the Bernabeu last January and watching Madrid beat Deportivo. Raul scored the winning goal and crossed off an item on my life list, "to see Raul Gonzales score live". He is one of the greatest footballers Spain and the world has ever seen and im sure that he will make history at Schalke as well.

  • Comment number 43.

    I think Pekster11 has got it right. In the late 90's and early 00's he was unbelievably good - and yes despite what many people here say he was a great player - a true great. Post 2004 he still had an very good goal return, but when this happens and a player hits the heights early in his career the latter half of their career tends to be the one that is remembered. there are very few that can keep it going over 15 years (giggs instantly springs to mind). I even think that players that have started slow and ended their career great are given more credence than when it happens the other way round.

  • Comment number 44.

    Hellow!

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  • Comment number 45.

    Class Stevo!

  • Comment number 46.

    He is a true legend and coincidently as I was reading this he scored in the Chapions League to level Gerd Muller's all-time European goalscoring record! Enough said.

  • Comment number 47.

    They will do good in all competitions..Raul and Huntelaar r a deadly striker duo, and the team rly starts 2 play better alrdy after gettin so many new faces. And 2 goals yesterday night for Raul in CL !

  • Comment number 48.

    Hola

    Mira Raul Gonzalez Blanco es uno de los mejor futbolistas del mundo. 323 Goles en 16 temporadas en el Madrid, es 20 goles al temporada. Quanto futbolistas puede marca 20 goles al temporada para 16 años. Raul es genial y seguro que vuelve como entrenador un año.

    Ant

 

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