When the New York Cosmos and the Ottawa Fury took to the field at Shuart Stadium in the North American Soccer League over the weekend, it was the final game in a glittering career of one of football’s greats. Mark Young takes a look back at the career of a retiring legend.
Raul Gonzalez – or just Raul, as he is better known – has been at the helm of a revamp of the New York Cosmos since leaving Al-Sadd last year.
The former Real Madrid great ended his spell with the club in typically glorious fashion as the Cosmos won 3-2 and also won the NASL.
However, it is not victory with the Cosmos that defines the iconic number seven, but the many years of Real Madrid glory that preceded that.
After a spell in the youth system at rivals Atletico, a teenage Raul moved to Real and made his debut in 1994, coming in for the ageing Emilio Butragueno after the 17-year-old had stated his case with a spell of 16 goals in seven games for the ‘C’ team.
He made an immediate impact – scoring ten goals in his first season at one of the world’s biggest clubs – and continued to do so in his 16 trophy-laden seasons with Madrid.
As managers came and went, Raul proved integral for the majority of his time at the Santiago Bernabeu.
A majestic striker, not blessed with explosive pace but with a brain that meant he was always a step – or even more in some cases – ahead of any defender that thought they could keep him quiet.
Raul was one of the world’s best at a time when there was a surplus of world-class centre-forwards, with Ronaldo, Batistuta, Vieri, Inzaghi and Del Piero all making waves across Europe.
In the mid to late 90s, as football fans we were spoiled. Superbly talented strikers who ‘knew where the goal was’ were all over the place, but very few had the key to the world like the Spaniard.
There were only two seasons where Raul would fail to hit double figures as his powers decreased. Injury slowed him down in the 2005/06 season, but in typical Raul fashion he bounced back – ever so slightly the next year, but soon he had 47 goals over the following two seasons and another La Liga title notched in 2008.
Real Madrid’s official website describes him beautifully.
“A Real Madrid symbol. The eternal captain who represented Madrid’s values on the pitch. Raul was a forward with an almost infinite instinct. He was an example to everyone, putting in the maximum effort in every game, irrespective of the opponent.”
It is no wonder he is looked upon as a Los Blancos great.
He won an extraordinary 16 trophies with the club in his 16 seasons there. These included a hat-trick of European Cups, six La Liga titles, four Spanish Super Cups, one European Super Cup and two Intercontinental Cups.
European trophies are always important for Madrid and he not only lifted three of them, but also scored in two of the finals.
He was even the club record goal-scorer (until Cristiano Ronaldo came along) with 323 goals in the famous white jersey.
The one blot on the career of such an icon? “The Angel of Madrid”, as he is known by Madridistas, could never quite do it for his country.
In 102 caps for his country, it never really clicked. With players such as Fernando Hierro and Fernando Morientes alongside him, he was part of a famous Spanish collapse at every international tournament.
Raul would be the one sacrificed in the latter stages of his career to bring in a new era of Spanish football – one of dominance and championships.
Timing is usually seen as a very important aspect in life and, for once, the Spaniard’s timing was just slightly off.
It was an emotional farewell for Raul from the only club he knew when he moved to Schalke in 2010, but the goals kept coming as he won the German Cup in his first season there and also the 2011 Super Cup.
Success followed the Spaniard almost everywhere he went and that is not a coincidence.
As his career drew to a close over the weekend, one thing that was a near constant for the Angel of Madrid was success and he will forever be held up as one of the greats. 23 trophies at four clubs in 21 seasons says it all.
A true icon.
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