One of the finest strikers to have played the game will be finishing his career next month. Former Real Madrid and Spanish striker, Raul Gonzalez, who currently plays for the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League (the second division of football in the United States) has announced he will be retiring following the conclusion of the 2015 NASL season.
“When I signed for the New York Cosmos in December, I said I would evaluate how I felt towards the end of the year and assess whether I would continue to play.
My decision is to retire from playing at the end of this season. I am fully focused on finishing the season strong and helping the New York Cosmos win the NASL Championship. In the coming months I will decide the next step in my career.
“Playing soccer has been part of my life for so long and the decision to retire is not an easy one but I believe it is the right time. I’m thankful to everyone who has supported me throughout my career and I look forward to playing my final games with the New York Cosmos over the coming weeks.”
As on 16th October, 2015 he has played 928 official club matches, mostly for Real Madrid and its youth teams, followed by 2 year stints at FC Shackle 04, Al-Sadd and his last year as a professional player with the Cosmos. During those 928 matches, he has scored 386 times and has a large trophy cabinet full of team and individual accolades.
At the national level, he is a Spanish Centurion, the second ever for Spain. He retired from national duty after a match in September 2006, then as the national top scorer with 44 goals (since then, its only been passed by David Villa and he remains second all time).
Raul broke through the ranks of Real Madrid in the 1994/95 season, at the age of 17. Interestingly, having started out in Real Madrid C, he would play a game for the B team before making his senior team debut and cementing his place there with 30 appearances and 10 goals in his debut season.
For the next 10 years, he was the heart of the Real Madrid side that were arguably the finest team in Europe at that point. The turn of the century saw Florentino Perez take charge as the club president, to begin the Galactico era. Raul formed prolific partnerships with the likes of Zidane, Beckham and Ronaldo.
These were some of the best years and the most trophy laden including 3 UEFA Champions League and several La Liga titles. He finished second in the Ballon d’Or voting of 2001 and also a number of individual accolades.
The most praise worthy, individual statistic for Raul? till date he has never been red carded. We are talking about a man who has played more than 1000 professional matches.
He was awarded a contract for life (that is, if he played 30 games a year his contract would be automatically renewed for the next season). He decided to call time at his career with Real Madrid at the conclusion of the 2009/10 season as he knew he would not be starting as often despite incoming manager Jose Mourinho stating he wanted Raul in his plans.
He left, with 741 matches and 343 Real Madrid Goals to his name, the highest in either category. The only regrets he may have had at Real Madrid, is not winning the Copa del Rey, despite making it to the final twice.
He would sign for FC Schalke 04, where he would score a healthy 40 goals over 2 seasons as he won the DFB Pokal and helped them finish high up the Bundesliga and reach the 2010-11 Champions League semi finals. He would leave after 2 seasons and play in the Qatari League, helping Al-Sadd win the Qatari league in his first season itself.
After 2 seasons there, he had initially called time on his career, but then towards the end of 2014, he decided to join New York Cosomos for a year.
In his career, until very recently. he was the top scorer in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Competitions (which has now been bettered by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo). His discipline is commendable as stated above, he never has seen red. He was an exemplary leader on the pitch and has been a hard working player, also providing assists. He was also a very, very consistent striker in Europe, having scored in single digits just twice in 18 years in Europe.
His individual accolades include being in the team of the Tournament of Euro 2000, Second in the 2001 Balon D’or voting, a record, 5 time, La Liga Spanish Player of the year winner , UEFA Club forward of the year a record 3 times and has been selected by Pele in the FIFA 100.
Even after leaving Real Madrid, his popularity and influence at Madrid remainded. Al-Sadd had played a friendly against Real in Raul’s testimonial match. Cristiano Ronaldo did not wear the number 7 Madrid jersey that match, stating it was for Raul.
At the age of 38, he is also aware now its time for his body to get the break it deserves as he wont be able to keep up with the demands of the game.
It is never easy to see a legend retire, even when you know the time has come. Regardless of the club, it was a privilege for the clubs to see and play against a player such as Raul, a gentleman of the sport and a legend for Real Madrid and Spain.
Sports is such an amazing passion.