Raul Gonzalez Blanco cut his teeth in the game in a red-and-white shirt in the Atletico Madrid youth academy, but after switching clubs at the age of 15 he wore the colours again, but never together: white for Real Madrid, and red for Spain.
Raul, whose second surname incidentally means ‘white’ in Spanish, went on to become a legend at Madrid, where he played between 1994 and 2010, as well as becoming a talismanic goalscorer for Spain. Raul ended his career on Sunday in typically effective fashion by setting up the match-winner as New York Cosmos won their second NASL title.
Following the 38-year-old’s decision to hang up his boots after 21 years as a professional, FIFA.com pays tribute to him with a selection of highlights from his illustrious career.
Raul may have made his first-team debut a week previously in Zaragoza, but it was not until 5 November 1994 that he officially played on home turf for the first time. It was an unforgettable occasion, with Raul winning a penalty, providing the assist for Madrid’s second goal and scoring the third himself in the city derby against Atletico.
The forward was not only known throughout his career for his goalscoring instinct but also for his impeccable on-field behaviour. In almost 1000 official matches he was never sent off and amassed fewer than 50 yellow cards, making him a living example of Fair Play.
Raul played at three FIFA World Cups™, two UEFA EUROs and was Spain’s all-time top scorer for four years and five months with a tally of 44 goals in 102 matches. Yet the fact that he never won a title with the national team remains a thorn in his side, a shortcoming symbolised by the last-minute penalty he missed against France in the EURO 2000 quarter-finals. If he had scored it would have forced the game into extra time. Furthermore, it was against a France side spearheaded by Zinedine Zidane in the Round of 16 at Germany 2006 that Raul made his final World Cup appearance.
Raul inherited the No7 jersey previously worn by players of the calibre of Raymond Kopa, Amancio, Juanito and Emilio Butragueno, but he managed to add further gloss to the legendary shirt by netting 323 career goals at Real Madrid to become the club’s all-time leading goalscorer. His haul was eventually surpassed by a successor more than worthy of donning the No7, Cristiano Ronaldo, while his records as leading scorer in the league and UEFA Champions League have also been beaten. “It was only a matter of time until my records fell,” said the striker, who also won the Pichichi crown as the Spanish league’s top scorer in 1999 and 2001, in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “All records are made to be broken. I’m happy with, and proud of, everything I’ve achieved – of each game and each goal that helped the teams I played for. I knew full well that others would come along and surpass those numbers. We’re also talking about the era of Messi and Ronaldo, two players who are already considered among the greatest of all time.”
Bulging trophy cabinet
Among all the silverware the striker won, it was perhaps Real Madrid’s seventh continental trophy that was the most special; after all, the club had waited 32 years for it. In total Raul won 22 titles, 16 of which arrived during his time at Madrid: three Champions League titles, two Intercontinental Cups, one European Super Cup, six Spanish championships and four Spanish Super Cups. In addition to those he won the German Cup and Super Cup with Schalke, the Qatar league title and the Emir Cup with Al Sadd, and the Spring Season championship, Woosnam Cup and, finally, the Soccer Bowl with New York Cosmos.
Silver and bronze
Though the Real Madrid forward claimed a number of records during the course of his career, the major individual awards proved elusive. The closest he came was in 2001, when he polled second behind English front man Michael Owen for France Football’s Ballon d’Or. That same year Raul finished third in voting for the FIFA World Player of the Year award behind Real Madrid team-mate Luis Figo and Manchester United’s David Beckham.
For such a historic figure in European football, he could not have chosen a more emblematic club for the final chapter in his career. New York Cosmos may play in the NASL, rather than American top-flight Major League Soccer, but they are nonetheless one of the most iconic clubs in the USA, boasting a list of former players that includes some of the biggest names in the history of world football, including Pele and Franz Beckenbauer. At the Cosmos, Raul was able to play in the No7 shirt too after its previous owner, Ayoze Garcia, generously offered it to him. “It would be strange not to have that number,” admitted a grateful Raul. And now the No7 jersey will take on another dimension at the Cosmos, for as the player himself said to FIFA.com, fans will now associate it with him “from here to eternity”.