Raul: Former Real Madrid Striker Enjoying A New Lease On Life With Schalke 04
Bundesliga side Schalke 04 may not be enjoying the best season in their recent history, they are currently languishing in mid table, but in Raul they have a striker who is at the very top of his game.
He scored all three goals in the 3-0 win over FC Koln today to take his tally for the season to 12. The former Real Madrid captain has averaged a goal every other game in German football after being released by the Spanish side immediately after Jose Mourinho's appointment.
Some had suggested that his legs had gone after he only managed five goals in his final season at the Bernabeu. Raul's recent form makes a mockery of these claims and Mourinho might well be wondering whether releasing the highest goalscorer in the club's history was the right decision.
La Liga's loss has been the Bundesliga's gain as Raul has formed a devastating strikeforce with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, another former Real Madrid man. They have 16 league goals between them and Schalke 04 are in the last 16 of the Champions League, meaning that Raul still has the chance to extend his lead as the all time top scorer in European club football's premier competition. He is currently tied with Filippo Inzaghi on 70 goals, but the AC Milan striker will not have a chance to add to his tally this season after suffering a serious knee injury.
The problems at Schalke 04 are not down to either of the former Real Madrid men. Their teammates have struggled to score, and the rest of the squad have only nine league goals between them. Defensively Schalke 04 have also been far from impressive and consistently concede at least a goal a game.
Even in the absence of a transfer fee, the signing of Raul still represented something of a gamble for Schalke 04 manager Felix Magath.
He was pleasantly surprised to find that the veteran striker was still intent on working hard on the training ground,
"It really impressed me to see a player of his resume that keeps training as if he were still young. He still has the competitive spirit that made him great at Real Madrid," he said.
As he reaches the twilight of a glorious career, the 33-year-old is in no way content to sit on his laurels. Raul still feels he has more to achieve as a footballer and compared scoring a brace against Hapoel Tel-Aviv in the Champions League to actually winning the competition.
"I never imagined I would get so many goals in the Champions League, and even for me this is really special. I won the Champions League three times with Real Madrid, but today is a great day because I scored my first two Champions League goals for Schalke," he said.
Raul did not make the most auspicious of starts to his post-Real Madrid career. Despite starting Schalke 04's first nine league games, Raul could manage only one goal and just five shots on target. After a stuttering start, the Spanish striker finally found his feet, scoring a brace against St Pauli which was swiftly followed by a hat trick aganst Werder Bremen.
Magath has steadied the ship somewhat after a disastrous start to the season which saw Schalke 04 lose four consecutive games, but his side are still well off the pace in the Bundesliga. They are already 10 points off second spot, a position they managed to secure last season, and are an incredible 21 points behind runaway league leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Raul has never experienced life this low down in a division before, but he has worked tirelessly for the Schalke 04 cause and already has twice as many goals to his name as he scored in his final season at Real Madrid.
With an increasing number of elite players choosing to head to either the US or the Middle East in their later years, Raul deserves credit for continuing his career in such a competitive league. He has only managed to break the 30-goal barrier once, in the 2000-01 season, but if Raul continues to find the back of the net at his current rate he might end up reaching the same milestone again a decade later.
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