Full name: Raul Gonzalez Blanco
Born: 27 June 1977 in Madrid
Club: Real Madrid since 1994
Honours: 6 Spanish league championships (1995, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008), 3 Spanish super cups (1997, 2001, 2003), 3 UEFA Champions Leagues (1998, 2000, 2002), 1 UEFA Super Cup (2002), 2 Intercontinental Cups (1998, 2002). Twice top scorer in the Spanish league (1999, 2001) and UEFA Champions League (2000, 2001). Third place in the 2001 FIFA World Player awards. Top scorer in the history of the UEFA Champions League with 61 goals. Second-highest scorer in the history of Real Madrid in the Spanish league with 205 goals (Alfredo di Stefano scored 216). 102 caps and 44 goals for Spain.
Miscellaneous: Raul is married to the former model Mamen Sanz with whom he has four sons, Jorge (8), Hugo (6) and twins Hector and Mateo (3).
The true professional
Raul Gonzalez Blanco is not only a top striker, the 31-year-old Spaniard is an icon and a superstar. He is also a faithful servant to his club, Real Madrid, and the best striker in the history of the UEFA Champions League, a tournament he is aiming to win for the fourth time this season.
He plays like an angel from the wrong side of town; he runs after everything that moves; even his own shadow can’t keep up with him; he scowls and only rests when he has achieved his immodest objective: winning the match. He’s Raul”. One thing that is immediately clear from this introduction is that Raul Gonzalez Blanco is an exceptional footballer, a living legend.
The description in question is from Jorge Valdano, the coach who gave Raul his debut on 29 October 1994 at the age of just 17, and appears in the preface to the book, Raul, el futuro, which was published shortly before his 19th birthday. The accuracy of the multi-talented Argentinian’s analysis has certainly been borne out over the years.
Valdano ends his eulogy to Raul by perceiving qualities in the young striker that Spanish football received as confirmation that a star had indeed been born: “Raul is a model of maturity beyond his years, a young man who in terms of talent, conduct and celebrity is destined to set an example to a whole generation. He is a clever guy with a strong character, a boy intent on rubbing shoulders with the all-time greats. He is the most important player to emerge in European football in the last few years.”
NO EURO 2008
However, Raul’s career as a mass phenomenon, goal poacher and serial title winner (as a glance at his enviable list of honours will confirm) could have taken on a very different hue: not white, but red-and-white striped. It is no secret that Raul made his name in the Atletico Madrid youth team, an allegiance that was handed down to him by his family, all die-hard supporters of the club. Despite the fact that Atletico’s 13-year-olds had been breaking all goalscoring records and were unrivalled in Spain in their age group, club president Jesus Gil y Gil decided to do away with the club’s youth set-up at a single stroke, citing financial reasons.
Raul, who by then had turned 15, became literally unemployed. But Real Madrid, or to be precise, their scout Paco de Gracia, had had their eye on the number 7 for some time. Raul explains in his diary (later quoted in Raul, el futuro) how he felt on 7 July 1992, the day he arrived at Real Madrid’s training complex for the first time: “I cannot forget San Cristobal [the suburb of Madrid where he is from] or Atleti, but now I play for Real Madrid. That’s why this morning I also sensed that I am going to succeed at this club. I am at Real Madrid now and nobody can make me move from here.”
Sixteen years, three European Cups and six Spanish league titles later, not to mention other lesser titles, Raul remains the figurehead of Real Madrid and Spanish football, regardless of the fact that his highly publicised falling-out with Luis Aragones cost him a place at EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.
“A SENSATIONAL PLAYER”
EURO 2008 was the first major international tournament that Raul has missed since his debut under Javier Clemente in October 1996. Clemente once summed up Raul as follows: “He’s a sensational player, he is not exceptional at anything, but he’s good at everything and very good in some respects. His mobility gives a coach a lot of options. What makes him a special footballer is his character.”
Raul has always been top of the class. He is not a ten out often at anything, but he is an eight at everything. Looking at his list of honours, it is incomprehensible that Real Madrid’s number 7 has never been in the running for the Ballon d’Or or FIFA World Player titles.
He is the type of player that you would always rather have playing for your team than for the opposition. Maybe he lacks the class of Zidane, Roberto Baggio, Van Basten or Romario, but he makes up for it with his presence, his character and because over time he has undoubtedly improved technically. This is confirmed by former Real Madrid technical director Arrigo Sacchi: “I value him greatly as a player, but also as a person. He is an example, because God did not give him a lot of talent, but he has achieved great things and won major titles through his cheerfulness, work and effort. He is one of the best footballers in the world and is part of the history of Real Madrid and this sport.”
Raul is to Spain and Real Madrid what Paolo Maldini is to Italy and AC Milan. When their names are mentioned, everyone should stand up to salute them. Despite their ups and downs, no one ever questions their place in the starting eleven of two of the best and most demanding clubs, positions they have occupied for 15 and 20 years, respectively. An impressive achievement indeed, as recognised by none other than Diego Maradona: “What he has achieved is not easy. Playing for Real Madrid for 14 years in a row is like playing for another team for double that time because of the toll it takes on you, the responsibility, what’s at stake and because you play alongside other star players. I don’t want to make a case for Raul because he doesn’t need it. He doesn’t have to prove anything to me. Raul is a genius, there’s no question about that. There’s no doubting his quality.”
Raul’s own view on his longevity is as follows: “I hope I’ll be able to continue playing football for many more years. I don’t know if I’ll be able to play for as many years as Maldini, because he’s been around for an incredibly long time, but I’ll try. I’ve been lucky because I’ve never had a serious injury. Until I damaged my knee two years ago I had never been operated on and that helped me. I’m in good shape because I lead a disciplined life, I rest properly, I eat well and I look after myself.”
Never a truer word has been spoken. Raul’s professionalism is almost out of this world. A typical day in his life starts at 10am at the Real Madrid training ground, one hour before training officially starts. Training is always preceded by a physiotherapy session because he had a groin problem ten years ago. This is followed by a session in the gym to work on his strength, training itself, more physiotherapy in the swimming pool, as well as other exercises.
This helps to explain why Real Madrid and club president Ramon Calderon did not hesitate to offer him a contract for life. Raul’s relationship with the club was due to end in the 2009-10 season and has now been extended by a further year. Subsequently, there is a clause stating that his contract will be automatically renewed every time he takes part in thirty official matches. Di Stefano, Puskas, Gento, Amancio, Zidane and … Raul — the striker long ago earned himself a place in the pantheon of Real Madrid greats on merit alone, and he feels a part of the club: “You put on the Real Madrid shirt and … there’s a lot of history behind it and you know you must defend it. There are millions of people watching the match to see the team win and you have to do everything possible not to disappoint them.”
HIS BEST FRIEND
Raul the footballer has virtually no secrets. No fan could forget his first goal, against Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu, much less his wonderful strikes against Vasco da Gama, Valencia or Bayer Leverkusen in major finals. Not content with his three European Cup wins, he still dreams of adding to that total: “Gento won six. Nowadays that’s hard to do. I hope to win another one, but six would be difficult. Of course I would like to equal Gento, what he achieved was historic.”
However, there is another side to the man, which is equally important to him: a private life that he always tries to keep as far away as possible from the headlines. Only the birth of his four sons has changed his outlook: “My Ballons d’Or are my four sons,” he once replied when asked for the umpteenth time about the absence of this individual award for the best player in Europe in his trophy collection. Fond of hunting and Spanish music in general, he also has a special relationship with someone whom he considers “my best friend in the world of football. The ball. It’s the best friend you can have on the pitch.” Ask him to chose his favourite of the 350 goals he has scored in his career and he will pick “the first one against Atletico Madrid. I will never forget it, the people clapping, shouting”. He is also a fervent admirer of Maradona, Roberto Baggio and, of course, Zidane and recalls that some of the best marking jobs that have been done on him were by his now team-mate Fabio Cannavaro in his days at Juventus and Inter Milan.
Agustin Dominguez, for many years a senior official at Real Madrid and the
Spanish football association and a former FIFA delegate, explains that the controversy surrounding Raul’s estrangement from the Spanish national team is due to the fact that he “has been strongly influenced by the degree of media coverage he has received. In these cases it is always better to keep as low a profile as possible. He is a very good player who gives his all in every match.”
RAUL IS BACK
Raul has proven his greatness both on and off the pitch. He went through a difficult time three years ago when the possibility of his leaving Real Madrid was even mentioned. As he admitted to Jose Felix Diaz, the editor of the Madrid daily, Marca, “My initial intention was to stay, but I admit that I had doubts. I wanted to be convinced that the club believed in me and it was clear that it did. I want to prove to everyone that Raul will be around for many more years.” Two consecutive league championships, particularly the last in which he made a decisive contribution of 18 goals, confirm that Raul truly is back.