Aside from a manageable infatuation with (Brazilian) Ronaldo, I’ve never really liked Real Madrid. I don’t like their bothersome search for opulent, velvety football. I don’t like the way that, recognising that a midfield containing Zidane, Figo and Beckham might have its limitations, they sold Claude Makélélé. I don’t want to open a can of tedious and repetitive worms by saying that Barcelona are just generally better, but they are.
Most of all, though, I don’t like clubs where players get bigger than the team. I’m talking about players like Steven Gerrard here, but there are talented examples too. Francesco Totti, for instance, or Alessandro Del Piero.
Or Raúl González.
Wikipedia tells us that “For many years, Raúl’s goal celebration has consisted of kissing his wedding ring as an acknowledgment to his wife … He enjoys listening to Spanish music and reading, especially the books of Arturo Pérez Reverte.”
Wikipedia also tells us that, in 2004, Raúl was appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Funny that, because he’d already enjoyed diplomatic immunity for years. Raúl was like an insufferable Edwardian public-school boy who never gets detention because his father made a generous donation to the school. With one hand he flicked bits of wet tissue at the coach, with the other he used a silken captain’s armband to polish apples for Florentino Pérez. The contented smirk of the untouchable prevails throughout.
This went on for years, the only small mercy being that Spain’s victory at Euro 2008 spared me the “What if Raúl had played” autopsies. Finally, in the summer of 2010, the golden boy announced that he was leaving Real Madrid. At this point he should have bowed out, glided silkily into the pantheon of the irritatingly handsome and over-appreciated. He could have taken up golf, maybe had a waxwork made, and, most importantly, left me quietly to seethe at his memory.
But the bastard signed for Schalke, and it all went wrong.
Everything dislikeable evaporated. No longer was Raúl the local boy done good, the president’s pet. Felix Magath had a lot invested in his star signing, but his tenure was always going to be more important than whether or not Raúl started the next game. Suddenly, Raúl was just a really, really good footballer. The Madridista had to earn his first-team place, and he did. Having not grown up on the streets of Gelsenkirchen (insert own Robbie Keane joke), he needed to earn the adoration of the fans. And he did.
My attitude mellowed. Heaven help me, I started to admire him. He scored thirteen Bundesliga goals (for a team that, let’s not forget, had a pretty lousy domestic season) and five Champions League goals On the way, he broke the all-time European goalscoring record. That didn’t seem like such a travesty any more.
I must absolutely stress at this point that I don’t like Raúl. Throughout writing this my teeth have been so fiercely gritted that on a future trip to the dentist I will be told to avoid solid food for a month. But I like that he went to Schalke. He challenged himself, and threw himself outside his comfort zone instead of taking the easy option. So now I’ll have no complaints when he bows out, and glides silkily into the pantheon of the charmingly handsome and deservedly-appreciated.
And maybe has a waxwork made.
Charlie is skald-in-chief of Stone by Stone, your one-stop shop for all things Nordic football. Find them on Twitter: @NordicStones. He also blogs over at The Carvalho Peninsula, and can be bothered on Twitter here: @CAndersonFtbl.