Raul eager to begin new chapter
The sight of Raul sporting the colours of Germany's Schalke 04 will be one of the more curious in the upcoming season after the Spanish goalscoring icon severed his ties with his beloved Real Madrid last week.
Nick Bidwell caught up with the veteran striker as he looks forward to a fresh challenge after 16 years with Madrid and discovered his fire has been re-ignited after sealing a lucrative move to last season's Bundesliga runners-up.
Were you tempted to end your career at Real Madrid even though you may not have been a first choice starter under new boss Jose Mourinho?
I could have stayed at Real. Obviously, I have a deep and emotional attachment to the club and Mourinho wanted me to remain. However, I'm now 33 and I just felt that my cycle at the Bernabeu had come to its natural end. I'd achieved all I could, every possible sporting prize, the captaincy and the affection of the supporters. I've been so fortunate and privileged and at some stage, you have to know how to turn the page.
What attracted you to Schalke?
I wanted to try my luck in a different and strong league, to set myself some fresh goals. It's very exciting and I'm energized by the prospect. This challenge excites me and it feels as if I have turned the clock back. No way have I lost my competitive edge.
What other options were on the table for you?
There was interest in me from the Premier League in England, the USA and the United Arab Emirates. In the end, I decided to go with the club who were the most insistent and that was Schalke. They have been in contact with me for months and they never stopped enthusiastically putting their case to me. They were hard to say no to.
Did the presence of respected Schalke coach Felix Magath persuade you that this was the right move for you?
Magath was particularly impressive and he did a great job selling the club to me. His ambition is there for all to see and he certainly knows what he's talking about. He's played in World Cup finals and scored the winning goal in a European Cup final (for Hamburg against Juventus in 1983). He drew a vision for me that made Schalke seem like a perfect platform for me. I'll be involved in the Champions League and as the runners-up in the Bundesliga last season, we have genuine hopes of moving onto the next level and that has to be winning the title.
You've joined Schalke in the same summer as your former Real team-mate Christoph Metzelder. Did you seek his advice before signing?
Christoph is a good friend of mine and he had plenty of tips for me. He is new to Schalke, but played for a long time at local rivals Dortmund and described the Ruhr region of Germany as a place where the fans are 'football crazy'. From what I've experienced so far, he is right.
|“||Like any professional, I'd rather be on the pitch from the beginning than in the role of second-half joker. ”|
What has impressed you about your new club in your first few days here?
One of the first things you notice is that Schalke is an institution in this part of Germany. Everyone you meet lives and breathes Schalke, they are the people's club. That's the sort of passion you cannot buy and I'm sure I'll be able to respond to all the warmth and the positive support.
How do you view the standard in the Bundesliga?
German football is a very attractive challenge for me. Attacking football is the norm, the stadia are full and the league has plenty of strength in depth. Bayern Munich are the top side, but there's seven or eight other clubs who have proved in recent times that they can challenge for the title. If you want proof of the calibre of the Bundesliga, look at Germany's results in the World Cup in South Africa. This wasn't the work of a football nation in decline.
What are your objectives for this season?
First of all to settle in as quickly as I can. One of my priorities is to learn German to a decent working standard. It will be complicated but it's something I must get down to. My aim is to help Schalke challenge for the No.1 spot in the Bundesliga and to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League. Neither aim will be straightforward, but I know enough about the quality of my new team-mates and the coaching staff to believe we will be tough to beat. Magath is a winner and the teams he puts together tend to share his mentality.
Last season you usually came off the Real Madrid bench. Do you have any apprehensions as to your ability to start regularly for Schalke?
Not at all. I'm in good shape physically and don't have any fears at all about my capacity to play for 90 minutes on a regular basis. Like any professional, I'd rather be on the pitch from the beginning than in the role of second-half joker. Schalke have brought me in for my experience and my goals and I'm delighted they don't want to use me sparingly. They believe I can make a difference and I'm grateful for their faith in me. I haven't come here for a pre-retirement party, so I'll be working as hard as I can on match days and on the training ground to live up to all the expectations of me. I do not intend to disappoint.
You scored 228 goals in 550 Liga games for Real Madrid. What kind of goal return would you aim for in your first Bundesliga season?
As a striker, I have been signed to score goals, but I'm not going to set myself a target. Once I've adapted to the rhythm of the Bundesliga, I'm sure I'll be finishing the chances that come my way. The sharpness is still there, as well as the will.
You are within two goals of the great Gerd Muller's European Cup/Champions League goal scoring record (69). You could well surpass his mark as a Schalke player, so is this a target for the upcoming season?
I was aware that I close to the mark and it would be a nice to make history. However, this is not what motivates me. The team takes priority over personal records and if I can score a few on our way to the knock-out phase of the Champions League, I'll be totally satisfied. You worry about the record books when your career is over, but I have not reached that moment yet.
How would you react if Schalke were face Real in the Champions League?
Oh wow. It would be so surreal to be an opponent of Real. They shaped me as a footballer and a man. I owe them everything. As a professional, I will spend the 90 minutes trying to bring about their downfall, but they will always be the team of my heart.