The accolades are abundant. Numerous Don Balón awards, 3 UEFA Champions League best forward awards, an all-time leading scoring record at Real Madrid and a host of other individual honours to accompany the vast array of team trophies he garnered in his 16 year term wearing the iconic white shirt. However, at 34 years old, Raúl González Blanco (now of Schalke 04) stands on the brink of his career’s twilight and will soon need to decide how and where the final chapters of his playing days will unfold. He could be tempted by a lucrative diversion into football’s wilderness or perhaps he could court the spotlight one last time.
In truth, the dishevelled Spaniard is rather a peculiar specimen. A prominent figure at the height of Real’s Galáctico era, Raúl was never burdened by the pressure of an obscene transfer fee. Rather, he ascended the youth ranks of the Castillian club before ultimately playing no less than 16 years for the first team. His departure to German outfit Schalke 04 was again typically low-key, signing a 2 year deal on a free transfer where he has maintained his stellar scoring record, accumulating 19 goals last season.
The principle concern, however, is whether the German club is still a viable venue for a Raúl Renaissance. Certainly Schalke were a prevalent force in Europe last season, reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League before they were overwhelmed by a superior Manchester United. Raúl even managed to convert 5 strikes over the course of the campaign, a subtle reminder to those outside Germany that, yes, he still plays, and, yes, he still scores. Quasi success in Europe was also complimented by domestic silverware, the DFB-Pokal cup, the club’s first in some 8 years. So, with the club seemingly on the ascent and Raúl proving a key contributor, where’s the problem exactly?
Well, the truth is Schalke aren’t exactly on the ascent and Raúl’s status there could become precarious. The disconcerting reality is that the club’s triumphs in Europe were rather a dramatic departure from their domestic form as they placed 14th in the Bundesliga, winning a paltry 11 of their 34 encounters (they had placed 2nd in the season before, amassing 19 victories). Furthermore, Raúl, whose aptitude for scoring didn’t falter in the midst of the club’s competitive crisis, may be regarded as surplus to requirement if head coach Ralf Rangnick feels Raúl’s performances, however impressive, do not warrant the supposed €7 million (or more) per season that it would cost to retain him.
Of course, at this stage, any commentary on Raúl’s future is pure speculation but, if he were to leave Germany, alternatives wouldn’t be sparse. Málaga are reportedly interested in luring the 34 year old back to his homeland where he would be reunited with former Real Madrid cohort Ruud Van Nistelrooy. A thrilling prospect for fans of the Andalusian club but an unlikely one as Málaga’s advances will likely be hindered by the lack of European football on offer. Schalke 04 have already automatically qualified for the play-off round of the Europa League, a more enticing scenario for Raúl who consistently prospers in European competition.
Blackburn Rovers serve as a more left field prediction with regard to where the Spaniard could and should end up. Raúl has always been somewhat infatuated with the premier league, and he could finally shirk the reputation of the child who never really left home. Torres, Fabregas, Silva and a cavalcade of others departed for England and so its understandable that Raúl could be tempted to follow suit. Yet, as ever, its a club that at present cannot offer European football and where silverware is little more than a fanciful prospect. Suddenly, Schalke doesn’t seem such a bad place to end his career if he wants to continue his pursuit of success.
Perhaps though, there are more cathartic conclusions to be found elsewhere. America has always offered some luxurious retirement packages for European football’s erstwhile superstars. However, such a scenario would seem at odds with Raúl’s inherently competitive nature. If he had wanted the epilogue of his career to be a less intense affair with sunshine in which he could sporadically flaunt the genius that once defined him, he could have done so by staying at Real Madrid. No, he wanted to be the protagonist on the grand stage once more, a role that Los Blancos could no longer offer him.
Fortunately, times haven’t changed all that much. The hair is a little longer and the beard a little shaggier but a glance at Schalke’s number 7 shows him to be, unmistakably, Raúl. He is unmistakably the Spaniard who first appeared in La Liga all those years ago and any team who wishes to sign him (and can guarantee European football) will see that he is, unmistakably, the player who has been consistently scoring for over a decade and a half. Of course he is not the sprightly youngster he was in the mid-nighties and forging a resurgence at 34 could prove an arduous task. However, he still boasts a supreme fortitude for putting the ball in the net in any given match. They say that’s still a valued virtue these days so perhaps that spotlight can await him a little longer.