When Raul Gonzalez Blanco finally drew a line under his trophy-laden time at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, it was widely assumed that the Real Madrid legend’s best days must be behind him. But his switch to Bundesliga outfit Schalke 04 showed that the veteran forward had plenty left to give, spearheading the Royal Blues to victory in the German Cup, Supercup and to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League over the course of his two-season stay.
Despite such success, Raul made the courageous decision to leave Schalke at the end of his contract, with the club responding by retiring the No7 shirt from the squad list in recognition of the Spaniard’s contribution to their revived fortunes. What was the next stop for the iconic goalgetter? Doha: to sign for Qatari giants Al Sadd.
After 16 years of breaking records and accumulating silverware in Madrid, Raul was keen to experience something different. His sojourn in Germany was certainly productive, but the 35-year-old striker’s thirst for adventure was unquenched, thus the move to Doha.
No sooner had his feet touched Qatari soil, Raul quashed murmurs that his Middle Eastern jaunt was little more than a whim: “I’m fully aware that Qatar are striving to become one of the leading sporting nations and they have big plans for football,” he said. “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.
“As for the football itself, winning games, picking up trophies and giving spectators pleasure are the things that will help achieve these long-term goals,” he went on. “I’m looking for a new experience and I will work hard to ensure I take full advantage of my time here.”
A humble icon
From his first day at the club, Raul has shown the humility and professionalism that have made him one of the game’s modern greats. He works hard in training, is always punctual and never refuses to give team-mates the benefit of his vast experience. In next to no time he had won their trust and admiration.
“Punctuality and showing respect in the workplace are the foundations of success,” insisted Raul. “Success is meaningless without them. I’m always looking to pass these lessons on to younger players, because they are the secret of excelling and developing your game.”
And while Real Madrid’s record goalscorer did not make the captaincy of Al Sadd a condition of his signing, the club’s administration did not have to think hard before handing him the armband. The delight with which this move was met by his new colleagues, and their readiness to help him acclimatise to his life in Qatar, is a powerful indication of the esteem in which he is held.
A new life
Key to keeping the passion burning in players of Raul’s calibre and technical mastery are fresh new challenges, as the player himself revealed shortly after touching down in Doha: “I believe that this will be a rich experience for me. I’ve been given a fantastic welcome by everyone here, which has really made me feel good, and I hope I can make a contribution to the side.”
His performances on the pitch show just how quickly he has settled in, with his presence seeming to inspire his team-mates to greater heights. Never a player afraid of putting in the hard yards, Raul’s continues to shoulder a heavy workload at Al Sadd. Indeed, the No7 is often found helping out in defence, adding his guile to midfield and threatening in attack – all in the same game
In addition to a number of assists, the club’s new captain netted four times as Al Sadd won nine and drew one of their opening ten games, which sees them in a merited first place in the Qatar Stars League. Regardless of the outcome of Friday’s match against reigning champions Lekhwiya, Al Sadd must be considered front-runners for a title they last secured in 2007.
Quite a start for the side’s new Spanish star: “Of course my primary objective is to win games and titles, as well as writing a new chapter in footballing history out here. We’ll work hard and focus as hard as we can on the pitch to make this happen.”
What is more, Raul is only the latest international legend to find his way to this corner of the Gulf. And if he continues to enjoy his life in Qatar he may well choose to end his playing career with Al Sadd, a great honour for the ambitious outfit and their loyal supporters.