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?