Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The Myth of Raúl

Few, if any, players in Spain excite as many contradictory opinions as the Real Madrid (and formerly Spain) captain, Raúl González Blanco. Many idolise him as one of the greatest Spanish players of all time, publicly berating Luis Aragonés (then national coach) for not including him in the Euro 2008 squad. Just as many criticise him for his seemingly unfailing inclusion in the starting line-up regardless of fitness or form. This is not unusual or even unexpected in a player who has achieved so much, but is inexorably nearing the end of his career. What is uncommon are the rumours, insinuations and even allegations of the power he wields over pretty much all aspects of the running of the club.

Even the lack of any direct evidence seems to give weight to the allegations (they must all be scared of him if nobody says anything, right?). Here is just a sampler:

Raúl effectively works as the sporting director from the shadows. He approves all the important decisions taken by the management. He is the man who talks most often with Calderón and Mijatovic. As there's nobody with more influence, he will discuss possible signings, prevents the medical team from publishing reports about his fitness or decides that team training sessions should be closed to both fans and then press.

Raúl never wanted my son to play for Real Madrid, ever. He didn't like Portillo because he could make him look bad.

Raúl does not approve of Real Madrid signing David Villa. Together with Guti and Míchel Salgado, they cannot forgive Villa the way he has appropriated the number 7 jersey with the national side. In addition, Raúl sees Villa as serious competition in the starting line-up.

And there's plenty more where that came from. I have purposely not included any articles from the traditionally anti-Madrid press (i.e Sport and Mundo Deportivo)) to highlight that this is not just an exercise in muck-raking for its own sake.

Despite a pretty good last season, Raúl has been a shadow of his former self over the last 4 years or so. Nevertheless, I find it very hard to believe that a single player can have that much say within such a huge football club in successive administrations. It just does not compute. Sure, he's the club captain and has been there longer than any other player. That means he has influence and an important opinion that should be taken into account, but to suggest that he has to play just does not make sense to me. Furthermore, to even suggest that he can have the power of veto in whether a player gets signed or not just sounds crazy.

If any of this were true I would expect to see a long list of disgruntled former players, club employees, etc. laying into the Real Madrid captain. Other than Portillo's father, there's nothing. And in that case, time has shown that he really was just not good enough to make it in Real Madrid, irrespective of how good he was in the youth teams.

When Fabio Capello left the club, he said nothing about Raúl, but he had plenty to say about Mijatovic and Calderón.

Raúl himself has finally given his version of events in an interview on Tuesday night with Radio Marca. He admits that he would like to see out his contract (which has another three years left to run) but that he expects to spend increasing amounts of time on the bench. He rejects any notion of his having any say in who leaves or who stays, and that he would have loved to play with David Villa. He concedes that playing his way back into the national side will be tough, but that he'll keep on trying.

I'm sure the man is no saint; we all have an ego to feed, but, personally, I find his side of the story much more plausible than some overarching conspiracy with Raúl's influence extending everywhere. What do you think?


john said...

I'll save my comments on Raul's character, but people will have to ignore displays like tonight's when calling for him to be benched. Any player who's not in form needs to be sidelined, and then prove their way back into the lineup. Raul actually has spent a fair amount of time on the bench over the last three years, most notably under Capello. But time and again he's proven his presence among the starting 11. Unlike a lot of athletes, Raul, despite his glorious history with the club, continues to work hard to justify his inclusion. That alone is worth respecting. In a way, I guess, that also justifies the calls for benching him when he's off his game. He'll just prove his way back on.

By the way, for those who didn't watch - Raul had a beautiful touch on a pass floated by De la Red which put the ball perfectly in place for Van der Vaart to strike in Madrid's first goal today. He made an incisive run to draw off Higuain's defender, then unselfishly stepped over Robben's pass so the Argentine could slot home, for Madrid's third goal. In the second half, he scored. Twice.

estoverao said...

One of the popular Raulist myths is that he has withstood countless challenges to his position in the starting lineup based on his never giving up, working hard and always delivering results. The truth is that as the favorite son of Madrid he was always given way more playing time and leeway to succeed compared to his challengers over the years, even when those gunning for his position were clearly better players.

Another popular Raulist myth is that his influence in the dressing room is tremendous with only two players who ever managed to steal his thunder and break the Raulist faction were RONALDO & ZIDANE, both of whom came to Madrid as untouchable World Cup winning legends. With their departure, the Raulist faction again rose to prominence and is credited for making life miserable for anyone who doesn't submit to Raul's ego. It's not an accident that Higuain has been making all this super Raulist fanfare recently because he knows that Schuster is starting to give him playing time and doesn't want to piss off King Raul in the process.

estoverao said...

Another myth is Raul's infamous sit down with Robinho after his glorious debut in CADIZ. The conversation is reported to have gone something like this . . .

Raul- look I know thats how you're used to playing in Brazil with Santos but here we do things different.

Robinho- I play the way I play, why should I change now, the fans and the press love me for it.

Raul- The only way you can succeed here is becoming a roleplaying sidekick who stops trying to steal the show from the main star.

Robinho- But I play extremely well with Zizou, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, are they complaining?

Raul- I meant me I'm the REAL star here, you have an attitude problem, do u think Real Madrid owes you something because you're Brazilian. I think you need time to adjust to Spanish futbol, I'll make sure you ride the bench until you learn to change your ways or your inner confidence is destroyed and you learn to be humble and play the way we want you to play.

Gonzalo said...

Thanks for the comment. He did play well tonight, although he does always do better at home and Sporting were hardly a tough nut to crack.

Thanks for both your comments. The Robinho story is exactly the kind of think I have a difficult time believing in. If he really had stomped on the kid to such an extent, why hasn't Robinho said anything about Raúl since he left? He's been bitter enough about his 'treatment' at the club that keeping silent about Raúl (if any of those 'reports' are anywhere near the truth) does not make sense.

estoverao said...

gonzalo, I just remember a statement Zidane made about ROBINHO before he left. "He will definitely become the best in the world, if they let him." That "if they let him" part always puzzled me. Who is "they"? Well whowever "they" were, I always assumed Raul was in the mix. Remember when Ronaldo, Baptista, Roberto Carlos & Robinho would samba after every goal together after Robinho first arrived. Raul talked about it disapprovingly in the press and next thing you know everybody was coming down on the 'unruly' 'unprofessional' brazilians and it stopped immediately. And you better believe Villa, who is a better player than Raul right now, doesn't want to come to Madrid and play second fiddle to anyone, especially not someone who he beat out at the international level and was rewarded with a EURO Championship medal as proof of ARAGONES wisdom. And speaking of ARAGONES, look at how much he was harrassed about dropping Raul when in the end he was right. Thank God, ARAGONES is not a 'cobarde', but imagine if SPAIN had lost, he would have been crucified by RAULISTA's everywhere.

Anonymous said...

I agree with our host. I find it very difficult to believe that he has all this influence and is so manipulating and NONE of the irrate former players and managers have said anything. Roberto Carlos, Luxemburgo, Robinho, Capello, Helguera, Pavon and many more have all slagged off Real Madrid in one form or another and NONE OF THEM have mentioned Raúl by name. It seems very strange. I admit to never having warmed to Raúl the person but this conspiracy theory doesn't hold up

caracoleo said...

Sure, Raul merely focuses his efforts on doing the best he can for Real Madrid every Saturday night - just like any other player.Of course, his influence barely extends beyond the dressing room... And pigs will fly.

The fact is that Madrid has become a mediocre team, with a mediocre striker, who, week after week is unable to demonstrate why he is picked ahead of the likes of Higuain or Saviola - or anybody else. Indeed, the performances of this has been seem to supercede that of the team. A glance at As or Marca after the 7-1 thrashing of Sporting will tell you that. By all accounts, it was Raul's night. And the rest of the team? They don't count - just ask Robinho.

To say that Raul has proven his presence, as John says, simply makes a mockery of the most elemental principles of sport; the idea of rewarding the fastest, the strongest and the best.

Real Madrid can be a great club again, but not before they rid themselves of the scourge that Raul has become.

caracoleo said...

Betis can hardly be described as trailblazers, however, they are not the pseudo, worn out, down on their luck beaten up team that Sporting Gijon are.

That would explain why up front for Real Madrid, Raul was simply unable to create any impression on the game. Nevertheless, there he was again, in the starting line up, present in spirit, but not in body.

Do we need yet more evidence of the power and influence of the captain of Real Madrid?

Gonzalo said...

I'm sorry guys, I just cannot equate the very real "Raulismo" exhibited by certain sections of the press with evidence of power and influence.

Similarly, just because Raúl was chosen to start today ahead of, say Higuaín or Saviola is not "proof" of anything. You may question Schuster's strategy, but to say this is as a result of "behind the scenes" influence does not follow, and does not sound plausible to me.

As I say in the original post - point me to textual evidence from a string of players and managers who have left Real Madrid over the past 6 or 7 years that this is the case - I can't find it.

caracoleo said...

Aragones - "The secret of our success is that everyone is prepared to spend some time on the bench."

Casillas - "We won (the Euros) because for once we were united as a team."

It would be extremely naive to believe that anyone would name Raul directly. But I think that both, Aragones and Casillas were thinking of Raul when they made these comments. Aragones nearly lost his job and Schuster knows this.

What logical explanation could there be for picking Raul ahead of Higuain and Saviola CONSISTENTLY? That Schuster is stupid?

Anonymous said...

Hi Gonzolo, would this be sufficient to your article ?

suddenly after dropping Raul , Schuster name is tabled to leave.. again & again

Raul is a bad influence in the team.. he is far from what you think & he is a real poison. we won't win the CL again with him

Gonzalo said...


An article in quoting an article in Sport? Please...

I'm not being dismissive of you, but will reprint any rumour they can find in the Spanish media or elsewhere, and Sport is even worse than Marca or As in making up stories to destabilise Real Madrid.

Even if the stories are based in truth to some extent, this, to me at least, doe not constitute proof that Raúl has a hand in anything.

Point me to interviews with former players, coaches or employees of the club where they categorically state their work was impssible because of Raúl's influence. Until then, I am much more likely to think it's the press playing their usual games, as well as boardroom politics.

caracoleo said...

If any 'minor' employee of the club were to state that he was unable to carry out his duties due to interference from Raul, he would be sacked and never heard of again. It certainly would never get reported in the press - and here lies the big problem. Spain's press is largely fanatical about Raul. Aragones did not overtly criticise Raul, he just dropped him, and insinuated that he was bad news for the dressing room. The press savaged him, depicting him as a bumbling, incompetent but greedy old fool. I ask you, if any 'big names' were to publicly come out and openly criticise Raul how do you think the press would take to that?

Another thing - after Schuster dropped Raul against Zenit, did you see the look on his face? I thought the dugout would become engulfed in fire and brimstone. The press were not too happy about Schuster's surprise maneuvre, and I expect someone from uptairs has already had a little word in his shell-like.

Anonymous said...

@gonzolo .. this is anon.

what about Aragones as caraco. mentioned ? the man was witch hunted for a year despite having an impressive unbeaten record..

is that not enough for you ? anyone (and u know that quite well ) would come out against Raul will be vanished from the face of the liga period.. he will be crucified & he will have more people asking for his head then Franco beheading the communist & liberals .
you are Spanish & you know that quite well Raul is untouchable he has more people to defend him then the Pope & mostly from the press and other right wing fanatics who look at him as the Spanish flag bearer

S said...

Having read the comments, I'd add my two cents.

First of all, there's no denying the kind of influence Raúl has over the media. It is mostly his own doing - during his best years, he was unstoppable. He was truly the best striker in the world at one point and the press took note of that. Playing for a big club such as Real Madrid certainly does not help Raúl in maintaining a low profile. Spending 16 years at a club like Real Madrid, being handed the captaincy has indeed earned him a lot more attention from the press than he'd have liked to.

The sad thing is that in the event of gaining so much of fame in the media, he is more susceptible to rumours than say someone like Guti or Salgado despite having spent as much time as he has.

There's no denying that Raúl has ego and at times he had shown his displeasure at being benched. However, this does not mean that he is having a regular influence behind the scenes in the Bernabéu. Of course having said that, he is captain and ALL captains in EVERY club have a certain amount of influence in the workings of the clubs. Raúl should not be excluded out from the equation.

I know many opponents have repeatedly raised questions about Schuster's decision to start Raúl over Higuain or Saviola. I think it might help them understand better Schuster's rationale by looking at last season. 18 goals from a man dubbed to have long surpassed his peak. This season has only just begun. It is entirely possible that Schuster is giving Raúl the opportunity to prove himself, which, you might note Aragones did not - bluntly refusing to pick Raúl and instead selecting some whose team got relegated to the Segunda. Should Raúl fail to perform consistently, I'm sure Schuster will bench him more permanently. And for those of you proclaiming that Higuain is a better striker, I'd suggest you look at this season's goal tally and compare Higuain to Raúl.

Of course I am not ruling out Higuain's talent. Nor am I denying the fact that Raúl no longer possess the deadly prowess he used to back in the days. However, I resent the fact that the many people are slandering Raúl and accusing him of having immeasurable influence over the Bernabéu and directly intervening in situations ('s accusation that Raúl had vetoed Villa's transfer is evident enough).

If someone had slandered Raúl in 2005/06 I'd have gladly accepted the criticism. Because his form was terrible and Aragones had every right to drop him. However, his form has picked up (you cannot expect the Raúl we saw in the late 90s or early 2000s, because the man is not getting any younger by the day - if you use that as your judging criteria then why isn't Van Nistelrooy being criticised? The man is not the same as he was during his spell at Manchester United) since then and I still feel that he should've been given a chance to prove himself during the Euros. Hopefully Del Bosque would be more willing to at least give the man a chance than to bluntly rule him out.

Also, as Gonzalo had said repeatedly, if you are convinced that Raúl has partaken in many underhanded shenanigans in the Bernabéu, please provide link to interviews from former players and staff. Note the usage of the former - these people have no existing affiliation with Real Madrid and I don't see why they should fear the Madrid loving press. Because for every Madrid loving press, there are hundreds of anti-Madrid press in Spain. Seeing how none of Raúl ex-teammates who are far more successful and famous (Zidane, Ronaldo, Figo etc) have spoken out against the Captain, I don't see why the press is making such a big deal out of it.

The man might have surpassed his glory days but he still brings valuable experience to the field. And that is something every Real fan should appreciate. One day, he'll eventually lose his starting line up (something which he had admitted to in an interview) but that'd be due to his age - because his legs will eventually tire out quickly.

As for Real Madrid's patchy performance, this is by no means Raúl's fault. Madrid, in their recent performance against Juve, lacked a strong midfield, their defence was scattered and the strikers were starved of good passes to score goals - it was a team loss. One person's inability to find the net in one of the matches should not result in him getting blamed. Raúl or not.

Honestly, didn't anyone watch the game against Almeria? If you have, you'd be an idiot to say that Raúl is just enjoying his tryst in the starting line up because of his influence. You don't need to flaunt your admiration for Raúl Gonzalez but honestly give the man a bit more credit.

Gonzalo said...

S, thanks for your long and thoughtful comments. Feel free to keep them coming, guys!