For 18 years, and arguably more than anyone before him, Raul personified Real Madrid.
The icon played over 740 games and scored nearly 320 goals in his time with the team but after management shifts, his career at the club came to an end. In the process, he became a sort of goal scoring nomad around the world, bringing cheer and class to fans in Germany, Qatar, and America.
Born in Madrid, Spain in 1977, Raúl González Blanco known to the world as Raul, was a Real Madrid fan by birth. It was the club he dreamed of playing for and when he was 13, the pros came calling. However, it was the other Madrid club – Atletico that got his signature.
In 1990, he signed with Real’s rivals and lasted two years before getting a call from the Real Madrid youth academy where he would flourish. When he was 17, he made his Real Madrid debut in 1994 and started his legacy as the youngest player to ever join the senior team.
Raul became a symbol for Los Blancos much like Francesco Totti would be for Roma, Paolo Maldini for A.C. Milan or Alessandro Del Piero for Juventus, he wasn’t just lucky enough to play for a great club but he got to be a part of his favorite team’s history – a rarity in any sport.
On their website, Real Madrid honor him by saying: “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 for everyone, putting in the maximum effort in every game, irrespective of the opponent. He would give it his all, having an insatiable appetite, something that was evident with each action. He was always alert for rebounds. An excellent role-model for anyone who has ever dreamt of being a footballer.”
In 2008, he and fellow teammate Iker Casillas signed “lifetime” contracts with the club, which meant they could play forever with the team as long as they appeared in 30 games each year. In the spring of 2010, he suffered a devastating injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year. That summer, then-manager Jose Mourinho opted not have the player return to the club and Real Madrid were forced to let him go.
Madrid fans around the world were devastated, their symbol, their hero, their icon was leaving. Without any ceremony or pomp and circumstance, he didn’t even get to say goodbye to the club and his fans like he would have wanted. In 2015, Casillas was let go by then manager Rafa Benitez, where the goalie currently plays with Porto in Portugal.
In his time with the club, he won 3 European Cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups, a European Super Cup, 6 La Liga titles, and 4 Spanish Super Cups. He also became the most capped player in the club’s history.
From 1996 till 2010, he wore the No. 7 jersey that was later given to Cristiano Ronaldo after the Spaniard left the team. In October 2015, Ronaldo broke Raul’s goal scoring record for the highest amount of goals by a single player at the club.
“In his time at the club he’s become a hugely important player for us. Of course he was already a great player before he arrived, which is why the club paid so much money to get him from Manchester United. All of us Madrid fans are delighted with his performances,” Raul told FIFA in 2015. “And hopefully he can continue to deliver the goods every season and help the team achieve their goals.”
Following his time with Madrid, he signed with Schalke 04 in Germany on a two-year contract.
Putting his No. 7 jersey back on for 66 games over the course of two season for the Bundesliga he netted 38 goals and made the German fans fall in love with his playing.
Raul wasn’t just a great striker for Real Madrid, at Schalke, he proved how worldly he was. Raul was like a snake waiting to poach on his prey and as soon as he got a whiff of the ball near him, he would attack and before anyone knew it, he scored. Raul had the poaching ability of Filippo Inzaghi, the speed and skill of Del Piero.
After he opted not to renew with Schalke, the club was so honored to have him, they retired his No. 7 jersey indefinably.
In 2012, Raul went to Al Sadd in Qatar where he played for two years where he captained the team and led them to their first league title in five years.
“I’m fully aware that Qatar are striving to become one of the leading sporting nations and they have big plans for football,” he told FIFA in 2012. “Winning the honour of hosting the 2022 World Cup is the best possible proof of their intentions. That’s why I thought it was the right thing to get involved in this venture: I want to make a real contribution to their development.”
In 2014, he said he would retire from the world of professional soccer and hang up his boots.
Months after saying that, he quickly came out of retirement and joined the New York Cosmos to play for the second tier NASL side in America. While his other Madrid teammates like David Beckham and Kaka were making a splash in America’s MLS, Raul joined the second division club.
“What brought me here was a desire to keep playing and the exciting project the Cosmos proposed to me. As well as being able to play, which is my passion and what I like doing, they also gave me the chance to help develop a youth academy, where I can bring my experience and knowledge to bear. I like the idea of working on the creation of an academy in a country where soccer, as it’s known here, is steadily growing in popularity. I believe there’s huge potential here and a lot of interesting things to do in that regard,” he told FIFA in 2015.
Raul’s impact was immediate and as the Cosmos saw their best attendance since the days of Pele and Beckenbauer, he also led the club to a league title.
Following his league win with Cosmos, he officially hung up his boots and retired for good.
At 39, Raul still has his hand in soccer as a pundit for BeIn Sports Española. He has also set up youth academies around the world in every city he has played in.
The No. 7 jersey is synonymous with the Spaniard and while it is currently wore by Ronaldo at his old club, it will always belong to Raul. 7 and Raul is like 23 with Michael Jordan – one in the same. No matter who wears it, that number will always reflect those players.
“I am happy that for 21 years, I was happy to have done something I love,” he told FIFA following his final game.