Raul (Spain)
© AFP

At the age of just 24, Raúl González Blanco can already look back on a glorious career. He won the Spanish championship in 1995, 1997 and 2001 with Real Madrid, and helped the Royal Club to UEFA Champions League glory in 1998 and 2000. His honours also include the Toyota Cup in 1998.

Raúl was born in the Madrid suburb of Villaverde Alto. After winning his spurs as a member of provincial team San Cristobal de Los Angeles, his father signed him to the Athletico Madrid youth team at the age of 13.

Raul rose through the ranks and seemed destined to join the professional side when Athletico President Jesus Gil y Gil dissolved the club's entire youth scheme in an effort to save money.

Deprived of a team to play for, Raul turned to local rivals Real Madrid, where success was quickly forthcoming: he began the 1994-5 season in Real's C team, scoring 13 goals in the first seven games.

In October 1994, coach Jorge Valdano picked the gifted teenager in his first team. At just 17 years and four months, Raul became the youngest player ever to wear a Real Madrid shirt. In so doing, he nudged aside no lesser a man than Emilio Butragueno, and was soon well on the way to becoming Spain's new superstar. In his first season, he scored nine times in 28 appearances and won a Spanish league championship medal.

At 1.80m in height and just over 70 kg, Raúl is very mobile and light on his feet, and likes to switch positions or go out wide. He can put his team-mates through into great positions, and create chances for himself even against the toughest markers. Originally an out and out striker, thanks to his versatility he has developed excellent link-up play, allowing him to play in the hole behind the front men.

Raúl made his first full international appearance in October 1996. Although he impressed in qualifying matches for FIFA World Cup France 98™, the finals themselves were a disappointment for him. He played a full 90 minutes just once, in the first game against Nigeria, scoring a fantastic volley which would be his only goal of the finals for Spain, who did not qualify for the knockout stages.

Spain's dismal showing in France provided the excuse for a major shake-up to the national side. Older players were put out to grass and Raul became a cornerstone of the new, youthful side. He finished top scorer, with 11 goals, in the Euro 2000™ qualifiers.

The whole of Spain is expecting more big things from the young star in the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korean/Japan™. The buy-out clause in his contract of $160 million should also ensure that his future remains at Real Madrid. As it happens, Raúl does not seem to harbour any ambitions to move anyway. During an interview at the beginning of 2000 with Protokoll, he confirmed that he would like to end his career at Real.