It is a measure of the stature of Real Madrid icons Raul and Guti that their recent departures from the Santiago Bernabeu have proved just as, if not more, newsworthy than the arrival of outspoken Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho. Exiting the club within a few days of each other, the two former captains were proud representatives of the madridismo spirit, coming up through the youth ranks to wear the famous white jersey with distinction from the mid-1990s onwards.
Having already begun new adventures elsewhere, they are sure to be missed, not least by fellow home-grown idol Iker Casillas, the current skipper of Los Merengues. “We’ve had so many years with them and so many experiences, but that’s life,” said the goalkeeper.
“We’re growing older and time stops for no-one. Michel Salgado’s gone and so have Raul and Guti. It makes you feel a little bit sad when you look back on it all.”
The departing duo made their mark at Real in differing ways. The more reserved of the two, Raul performed the role of lethal marksman for many a season, while Guti carved out a niche as one of the finest passers around, their contrasting characters defining the paths they would take in the Spanish game.
Ironically, both made their first-team debuts under Jorge Valdano, who, in his present capacity as Real Madrid’s director of football, accompanied the players as they bade tearful farewells last month.
Raul began his hugely profitable association with Los Blancos when Atletico Madrid decided to disband their youth teams. Pitching up at the Bernabeu, the quietly spoken teenager would go on to enjoy 16 glorious seasons in the elite, making 741 appearances in that time and scoring 323 goals.
“Along with [Alfredo] Di Stefano, Raul is Real Madrid’s greatest ever player,” commented Valdano as the legendary No7 announced his departure to Bundesliga side Schalke. “He represents the values that Madrid fans identify themselves with. Alfredo has been everything to the club, and I’d perhaps put him slightly above Raul, but only just.”
Josep Guardiola, who played alongside Raul for La Roja and against him in the colours of the Barcelona side he now coaches, was also full of praise: “The greatest player Spanish football has ever produced is leaving. The statistics show that."
Having yet to pick up a single red card in his career, Raul has long attracted praise not just for his goalscoring instinct but also for his modesty, self-sacrifice and dedication to his craft. That dedication has already become evident at Schalke, for whom the 33-year-old scored twice on his debut in a friendly, much to the delight of his new fans.
While Raul always enjoyed the confidence of his various coaches at Real, the same cannot be said for Jose Maria Gutierrez. Guti, as he was more commonly known, has spent his entire footballing career with Los Blancos, running out for the first team for 14 eventful seasons. A cultured midfielder with superb vision and a gift for conjuring up seemingly impossible passes, the 34-year-old was held back at times by a fiery temperament, although his ball skills still earned him 542 appearances for his beloved club.
“We are saying goodbye to a unique player who has spent 24 years with us, 15 at the highest level,” said Valdano on Guti’s last day at the Bernabeu. “He is a very special player with the ability to surprise us whenever he took to the field. It is a great madridista who is leaving us today.”
Guti added: “This is the end of a glorious period in my career. It’s been wonderful, but you have to let the younger players come through. When all’s said and done I’m very proud to have been here.”
A day after his emotional adios, the 34-year-old was treated to a hero’s welcome in Istanbul - where he will run out for Besiktas - with a huge swarm of fans accompanying him from the airport to his unveiling at the Besiktas Inonu Stadium.
Overall, Raul won six La Liga titles to Guti's five, while they both seized the UEFA Champions League thrice and two Intercontinental Cups. Whether they can add to that haul with their new employers remains to be seen, although both believe they still have much to offer in an exciting new phase in their careers, far away from the place they have called home for so long.
Taking up their mantle is Casillas, another home-reared champion and Spain’s first FIFA World Cup™-winning captain. With those kind of credentials, there is every reason to believe the inspirational goalkeeper can do his two former team-mates proud and lead Real Madrid into another glorious era.