As Spain and Real Madrid’s all time top goalscorer, you would expect Raul to be on the wish list of many major European club’s this summer as he is set to end his lifelong association with the Spanish club. It is not the case however, as the striker is said to be listening to offers from the United States and the Middle East. Now come rumours of interest from Liverpool. Although the speculation doesn’t come from Marca, the reputable newspaper for all inside knowledge on Madrid (it comes from the ‘Sport’ newspaper in Madrid), Rafa Benitez did not deny in his press conference today that he was interested in the striker.
So what has made Raul’s move away from his boyhood club a certainty this summer? The 32 year old has fallen out of favour in the Madrid team this year and has fallen behind Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the running for a starting place. He has become far more a peripheral figure under head coach Manuel Pellegrini this season and in all likelihood he will be moving on to another club. Raul and his agent Gines Carvajal have been looking around the world for one final swansong and a final pay packet for the player before he retires. A number of MLS teams have been looking at the striker, including David Beckham’s LA Galaxy, but the attraction of a two year deal, playing at the top level in the Premier League with Liverpool could be an offer he couldn’t refuse. According to the ‘Sport,’ Benitez has asked the long-serving Real Madrid captain to move to Anfield in a deal that could suit all parties. There is a stumbling block to any such transfer in that Real Madrid may want a fee for the 32 year old. Benitez is a keen admirer of the striker from his days at Valencia and could see Raul as a good free transfer to bulk up numbers up front, however Real surely wouldn’t want their all time record goalscorer going to a European rival. On top of this, the “contract for life” which Raul signed back in 2008 entails that if Raul plays over 30 games for Real in a season, Raul is entitled for his contract to be renewed. He has appeared 27 times already this season and will almost certainly play over 30 before the season is out. It is a small problem and one that could be easily resolved though.
So what’s the catch? For me it is a big one and one that should scupper any move for the legendary striker. The problem is two fold: both on and off the pitch. At 32 years of age, Raul shouldn’t be coming to the end of his career and he has never been a player who relies on his pace; natural goalscoring ability is his real talent. Desire and motivation are the real question marks over Raul and if he doesn’t come to the Premier League fully committed, he will fail miserably due to the physicality of English football. If he comes here for the money, he won’t last more than six months.
The other issue is his influence off the pitch. One of the main reasons, other than Higuain and Ronaldo, as to why Raul finds himself out of Madrid’s first team eleven is his overbearing influence over the entire team. As Club captain, he had a direct line of communication with Florentino Perez during his first stint as President during the Galactico years and if managers didn’t have his confidence, they would generally be out of the club. He became more powerful than the manager at points and he became a destabilising influence inside the dressing room which has led Pellegrini to isolate him this season to prevent his own authority being undermined. The Chilean manager has been allowed to do this because of Raul’s own poor form, Managing Director Jorge Valdano’s own faith in Pellegrini and Perez’s own interest in ensuring that both two expensive signings in Benzema and Ronaldo succeed. Of course Raul would not have the same amount of power if he moved to Anfield, but if he has to settle for a place on the bench, there is every possibility that Raul could become restless. One of the main reasons Raul would move to Liverpool is the amount of Spanish speaking players at the club and due to Raul’s own high reputation, there is no doubt he could unsettle others in the team. Benitez has taken a risk on older players before, such as Robbie Fowler, but in that case it was a legendary player returning to a team he loved, rather than a legendary player moving to a club who he has had no prior association with for one last hurrah..