Player Profile : Raul

I have always felt a gift diamond shines so much better than one you buy for yourself.

When you are given something as astonishing and rare as a diamond as a present you treat it as if it's the last diamond on earth, this diamond may not be the best, it may have a few rough edges and it may not shine as bright as the others but it will do one day. This diamond was a gift. You didn't have to pay for it. It's got more significance than any other diamond you own. That's what makes it the best diamond.

Jesus Gil the president of Atletico Madrid between 1987 and 2003 specialises in diamond gifts. Gil decided as Club President that to save money Atletico Madrid would need to close down its youth academy. What he did not realise was that positioned in his club's youth academy was one of the rarest and brightest diamonds to grace the arid lands of Spain, let alone Europe.

A natural goal scorer is said to be a rarest diamond in football, in that case Jesus Gil's decision to close down Atletico Madrid's youth academy presented the biggest gift in world football to a neighbouring team who already had its own collection of the world's finest diamonds, all bought and paid for, of course.

I am of course talking about Raul Gonzalez, one of the most natural goal scorers of all time. After amassing an incredible goal scoring record that reads 323 goals in 741 games. This in turn broke the most prestigious record at arguably the most prestigious club in European football, this was of course Real Madrid's all-time goal scoring record formerly held by club legend Alfedo di Stefano.

Raul announced himself to the gods of the world's greatest goal scorers on February 15th 2011 when he became the leading goal scorer in the history of UEFA competitions. His 71st goal in European football came against Valencia for his new club Schalke 04.

As Raul's love affair with the UEFA Champions League continues there is a worry that Schalke 04's 2010/2011 Champions League campaign could be his last in the Champions League given Schalke 04's poor league position. Raul admits it will be sad if he could not play in the competition he has made his own over the past decade.

"Whenever I hear the Champions League theme music, I get Goosebumps.'' he said.

"You never know, it could be my last Champions League game, but the special relationship between Raul and the Champions League will last forever, no matter what happens.''

Raul now sits above the likes of Filippo Inzaghi, Andriy Shevchenko, Alessandro Del Piero, Thierry Henry, Gerd Muller, Eusebio and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Yet the recognition that Raul receives is minimum for a player who has broken ever record to be broken in the final third of the pitch.

For a player who has won everything at club level multiple times, Raul is a player who wasn't won many individual awards, remember Raul is a player who played in a team who won the Champions League in 1998, 2000 and in 2002 top goal scoring most seasons. Yet Raul has only won the Bronze award for World Player of the Year in 2001 and a Silver award in the Ballon d'Or in the same year. This personifies the character that is Raul Gonzalez, he doesn't player for himself he plays for the team. That is one of the main reasons why Real Madrid were so successful in the late nighties, early noughties. Raul was the maverick of the most successful club of his generation.

"We all know what Raul represents, not only for his team but also for football." These are the words of then Juventus and France striker David Trezeguet, this quote symbolizes the kind of respect that Raul acquired from his colleagues. Trezeguet obviously doesn't know how strenuous it is to put quotes onto another player, but now thanks to the former Juventus front-man we all have a much greater appreciation for what Raul represent for the game of football. If that wasn't quite enough praise for a player who doesn't like to take the limelight, his one-time former Real Madrid team-mate Luis Figo delivered the praise of all praises, by stating that Raul and I quote. "Is the greatest player to have ever played the game." Well it's now obvious to all that Raul got the respect and praise from his peers but not quite enough to win individual awards.

Many players leave Real Madrid. Many are ushered out the back door never to be spoke of again or leave in a big all singing all dancing tantrum. Not Mr Madrid, having made more appearances for Real Madrid than any other player in the history of the club and scoring more goals than anyone in the history of the club Raul left on a humble quiet note. His reason for leaving was clear he wanted to play every week.

Apparently Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to bring the veteran forward to Man United when his contract ran out at Real Madrid but Raul had already agreed terms with Schalke 04. Not surprising as Sir Alex has been a long term admirer of Raul. He was once quoted as saying. "I hope he doesn't like travelling, Failing that we will stop him entering the country." This came on the eve of Real Madrid's visit to Old Trafford. Sir Alex usually knows a good player when he sees one, though the last time he was so desperate to see someone prevented from entering the country was probably after Kleberson's summer holiday in 2005. The Brazilian must be well rested, that break has lasted five years so far.

In the eyes of many including my own Raul should be a European Championship and World Cup winner. Raul unfortunately missed out on being involved in both squads. This seems unfair to a player who has always given his all to the national team, especially considering he seemed to be one of Spain's only brightest lights in a generation of underachievers. It is crazy to believe a player such as Raul with his ability and experience was dropped, with the likes of Dani Güiza of Real Mallorca and Sergio Garc¡a of Real Zaragoza. I'm not saying that Raul should have been in the squad just because of who he is, in this respect this is a similar scenario to Beckham and England. However Raul brings much more to the team, he was still in good form and wasn't exactly passed it. Raul of all players wouldn't want to have been placed in the squad purely because of who he is and what he's done in the past. Raul has never been one to sing his own praises.

Raul has defiantly had a career many a player would be jealous of with multiple La Liga titles and three Champions League winners' medals but as his career moves into the final chapter many wonder how long Raul can carry on playing for. The Schalke 04 striker has scored 15 goals in 38 games this season across all competitions. This isn't exactly retiring form for a 33 year-old who will be 34 in June. One of the main reasons why Raul has still, well essentially 'got it' is because Raul is one of very few players in today's that require a pace. By all mean Raul is not slow, he wouldn't finish last in a sprint test at the Schalke 04 training ground but he wouldn't be steaming out in front. Raul is one of the cleverest footballers of his generation, having that ability to see a situation before it unfolds is one of the most useful skills to have in a footballer's toolbox. Many of Raul's 338 career goals have come from being in the right position at the right time through excellent reading of the game.

Raul's relationship with the Champions League continues as Schalke 04 were drawn with reigning Champions League winners Inter Milan. Raul will hope his team can progress so he can have his fairy-tale game against Real Madrid but he will have to wait until the final for that to happen and with no disrespect to Schalke 04 I highly doubt they will have the strength to beat Inter Milan and then one of Chelsea or Manchester United.

Controversial Spanish politician and former owner of Atletico Madrid, Gil famously stated. "With my popularity, I could be god". He's right who in their right mind would close the Youth Academy of one of Spain's biggest football clubs. If Raul had made it at Atletico Madrid he could have commanded a fee of 20 million plus in his prime, but for the stupidity of a non-footballing man involved in football, Real Madrid were able to capitalise on the situation and the Bernabéu crowd were treated to one of football's greatest for 15 years. There are not any players aside from Raul who have become such iconic figures within a club having started their careers with the arch rivals of that club.

It is a well-known fact that Raul kisses his wedding ring every time he scores a goal, I just wonder if he has a diamond planted on his wedding ring because Raul is one of football's all-time greatest goal scoring diamonds, had Jesus Gil kept Atleltico Madrid's Youth Academy it could have all been so different.

Article written by: Chris Parsons