This is how I spend my time interning at Cincinnati Magazine: Watching highlights, typing this:
In the days of big spending and Galacticos, when the Spanish game was dominated by names like Ronaldo, Figo, Beckham, Roberto Carlos, Zidane and Ronaldinho, it took a kid from south-side Madrid to remind them all that there can be only one King of Spain. Raul.
His 15 seasons at Real Madrid set the gold standard for this generation of Spanish Stars. When he made his debut at 17 years and 124 days in 1994, at the time the youngest player to ever debut for the senior side, few would have guessed that the player without exceptional size, speed, or skill on the ball would go on to become greatest Merengue of all.
Soccer is a simple game, really. So much is made of tactics and approach play but if you can’t score, you can’t win. Raul had the knack. He combined intelligence, hard work and ruthless finishing to not only surpass Alfredo di Stefano as Madrid’s all-time leading goal scorer with 323 but to also set the record for career appearances at the club at 741.
As captain of Los Blancos and the national ambassador for the game, Raul won 6 league titles and in 1998 was on the side that brought the European Cup back to the Bernabeu after 32 years. He would add two more Champions League Trophies to his list of achievements in 2000 and 2002. Though he never won FIFA World Player of the Year honors, Raul was named Spanish League Player of the Year 5 times and holds the particular distinction of never having been red carded, in any competition, during a 17 year professional career.
At the end of the 2010 campaign, despite being awarded a “contract for life,” Raul announced that he would be leaving Real Madrid to join Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga. In his first season with the club, he brought the German side all the way to the semi-finals of the Champions League, a feat never accomplished before by the club, before being knocked-out by Manchester United. However, it was during the tournament that Raul netted his 73 goal, surpassing Gerd Muller as the competition’s all-time leading goal scorer. He would also go on to win the domestic cup with Schalke, an accomplishment he never earned with Real Madrid.
Just last week, Raul announced his retirement from the German club, playing his last game and scoring against Hertha Berlin, April 29th. He cited that his future, “is not in Europe,” opening up the possibility that he could be the next big signing for an MLS club. Whatever the case, one of the Greats of the European game is moving on. Raul Gonzales Blanco, Legend of the Game.
Words by Max Webster