Everyone remembers the first time they had a player’s name on the back of a replica shirt. For me, it was ‘Raúl’ that sat proudly above number 10 on a 1998 Spain home shirt. (Annoyingly for me, the following year the Spanish striker opted to change his number to 7, as was pointed out to me whenever I wore the shirt in the years that followed…)
In truth, back then I knew very little about the Real Madrid star, but as I learned more about the player in years to come, I discovered he was a true football legend.
Growing up, he played for local team San Cristobal de Los Angeles, where his goal-scoring ability did not go unnoticed. He was soon snapped up by his boyhood club Real Madrid and at the tender age of 17 years and 4 months (and after scoring 13 goals in 7 games for the Real Madrid ‘C’ team) he became the youngest ever player to play for the Spanish giants.
Over a 16-year spell at Real Madrid, the player’s records speak for themselves. Raúl played 741 games and scored an incredible 323 goals – both club records. He won La Liga six times and, having won the Champions League on three occasions with Real, also holds the tournament records for appearances (144) and goals (71).
The club’s supporters adored him and he was also revered by fans of the Spanish national team, for whom we played over 100 games. As the country’s second all-time top scorer with 44 goals, behind David Villa with 51, this is hardly surprising. In a glittering career, he performed with Spain at three World Cup tournaments (1998, 2002 and 2006) and two European Championships (2000 and 2004).
Looking back, it was this goal at the 1998 World Cup that, for me, showed he had talent well above the average SPL striker I had grown up watching. This was a player who could create something from nothing.
It was never with speed that he could beat an opponent, but with movement, positioning and, above all, sublime close control. In fact, in my opinion, Raúl is perhaps the greatest slow paced striker of my generation.
After leaving Real Madrid in the summer of 2010, speculation was rife that the Spanish idol may join a Premier League team, but the veteran striker instead joined Schalke 04 – a move which raised a few eyebrows. However, the German side, with their new star, reached the semi-finals of the 2010-2011 Champions League, where they were knocked out by Manchester United. Raúl did achieve silverware in his first season with his new team, winning the DFB-Pokal domestic cup and the DFL-Supercup against league champions and rivals Borussia Dortmund.
Despite his recent spell at Schalke 04, where he currently plays, Raúl will forever be associated with the ‘galácticos’ of Real Madrid during the late 90s and early 00s. The stunning goal against AC Milan in the 2002-2003 Champions League group stages (see below) sums up not only the free flowing football talent of the galácticos in their prime – it highlights the lethal finishing possessed by Raúl in his.