RAÚL RETIRES

One of Spain’s greatest-ever footballers, Raúl, has announced his retirement at the age of 38.

Raul Euro 2000
Raul Euro 2000

Born Raúl González Blanco – Spanish pronunciation: [raˈul ɣonˈθaleθ ˈβlaŋko] – on 27 June 1977 in the San Cristóbal de los Ángeles neighborhood of Madrid, he played for the local junior team, San Cristóbel from the age of ten before joining the groundstaff of Atletico Madrid when he was 13. Two years later he switched his allegiance to Real Madrid (summer of 1992) and after rising through the junior ranks at the Bernabeu Stadium, he became a full-time professional at the age of 17.

Playing initially in Spain’s equivalent of the English Fourth Division with Real Madrid’s ‘C’ team, he was promoted to the senior squad before he was eighteen and never looked back.

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Considered one of the most important players in the history of Real Madrid, Raúl went on to spend 16 years with the Spanish giants and is now the club’s second all-time leading marksman, having bagged no less than 323 goals… only Cristiano Ronaldo has netted more.

He has also played in more games, 741, than any other player for los Blancos. He gained six La Liga winner’s medals, was a member of three UEFA Champions League winning teams, scoring in two finals, starred in four Supercopa de España winning sides, as well as collecting one UEFA Super Cup and two Intercontinental Cup winner’s medals.

With 71 goals, he is the third highest scorer in European Cup/Champions League history, behind Barcelona’s genius Lionel Messi and the aforementioned Cristiano Ronaldo, and the fourth highest appearance-maker in the competition to date (144 games), with only Barcelona’s star Xavi (157), Real Madrid’s goalkeeper Iker Casillas (152) and the retired Ryan Giggs, ex-Manchester United (151) ahead of him.

In Spain’s La Liga competition alone, Raúl is the fifth highest goalscorer in the history of the tournament with 228 goals… just behind Messi, Telmo Zarra and fellow Real Madrid legends Hugo Sánchez and Cristiano Ronaldo.

He is also the highest scoring Spaniard in all European/World Leagues with a total of 256 goals, 228 of which were netted in La Liga and 28 in the Bundesliga with FC Shalke 04, the club he served from August 2010 until May 2012.

Moreover, he is the second highest appearance-maker in the history of La Liga, with 550 games played. The famous figure of Andoni Zubizarreta amassed a grand total of 622.

Raul 2013In 2003, Raúl was appointed captain of Real Madrid and he retained that position until his departure from the club in the summer of 2010 when he moved to Germany. And it was here, with FC Schalke 04, where he notched the 400th goal of his career, doing so in February 2012.

At the end of that Bundesliga season, he signed for the Qatari team Al Sadd, helping them win the Qatar Stars League championship in his first season, while at the same time he also reached the milestone of 1,000 senior appearances in his professional career.

Although he did not win a major competition while playing for the Spanish national team (which annoyed him greatly) Raúl did manage to score, what was then a record 44 goals in 102 appearances for la Roja.

He appeared in three FIFA World Cups and in two European championships during his international career, as well as lining up in two U18, five U20, nine U21 and four U23 games for Spain, scoring another 17 goals.

Raúl, like he did at club level, was appointed captain of his country in 2002, and he proudly retained the skipper’s armband for four years, until 2006, when he made his farewell appearance at international level

In 1999, when he was just 22 years of age, Raúl was named as the world’s best striker by IFFHS, and to date he is the only player to capture the UEFA Club Forward of the Year trophy three times, in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

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He also took second place in the Ballon d’Or and came third in the FIFA World Player of the Year awards in 2001, and three years later was named in the FIFA list of the world’s 100 greatest living footballers, while at the same time he was also included in the UEFA list of the fifty best European players over the fifty year period from 1954 to 2004.

A member of the European Team Of The Year of European Sports Media in 1997, 1999 and 2000, Raúl won two Pichichi trophies (in 1999 and 2001), collected the top goalscorer award of the UEFA Champions League in 2000 and 2001, won five Don Balón Awards (in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002) and was voted ‘Best Player’ at the Intercontinental Cup in 1998.

Raúl rounded off a brilliant career by helping New York Cosmos beat Ottawa Fury 3-2 in the North American Soccer League Bowl in November 2015… and that was it!

After leaving the pitch at the end of the game, the tearful Spaniard told the press: “This was the last game in my career.

“I’m very proud of everything I have done. For me now, I start a new life with another project. I’m happy, but I’m also very sad.”

Brava and well played – take a bow, one of football’s greatest ever players.

Tony Matthews