Raul, a Real Madrid 'Galactico' landing with the New York Cosmos
One of the most prolific strikers in history, Raul Gonzalez is about to embark on the next stage of his career with the New York Cosmos.
ESPN FC recently caught up with the man who, until recently, held the La Liga and Champions League all-time goal scoring records, to discuss Ronaldo vs. Messi, Pele and Maradona and the Spanish national team, as well as his expectations for the Cosmos.
The interview was conducted in Spanish and has been edited for clarity.
Was Real Madrid's best moment with the "Galacticos" in the 2000s?
Well, let's see when the word "Galacticos" first came into use. The first to arrive was [Luis] Figo in 2000. In 2001, [Zinedine] Zidane arrived and that's when we won the European Cup in 2002. In 2003 is when [David] Beckham arrived, shortly followed by Ronaldo. It was after Beckham and Ronaldo arrived that people really started talking... or maybe it was between the arrival of Beckham and that of Ronaldo. I am not sure, I don't have all the figures. We didn't win a single European Cup. People remember this because Florentino [Perez] does a really good job at highlighting this period.
Can you see what I am trying to say? What I am saying is that, yes, it was a great moment, professionally it was incredible to play alongside these players, but that being said we did not win as much as people think. Beckham only won La Liga once, and that was a year before he left the club. Just once! And it was the same year in which [manager Fabio] Capello had told him that he would not play anymore. And then he plays, and we ended up winning La Liga, which was quite heroic. All this was in 2007.
And how does Real Madrid compare with the current team, which recently won 22 games in a row?
The truth is that, currently, the team are performing well, incredibly in fact. Firstly, let me just say, that I do not like to compare, I believe that each moment and each team is different. Likewise, I still believe that any evaluations should be done at the end of the season. That being said a year ago nobody would have bet on Madrid winning their 10th [European Cup] title, due to a rather bumpy start to the season and the fact that Real Madrid only started to play well during the last stage, which was key. But clearly, after winning la Decima, the team has a lot of personality, they are very aware of what they are playing for, and they play well.
How do you see Cristiano Ronaldo, who you played with for only one season?
I have never had a teammate as physically strong as him, so eager to train every day. He is the first to arrive, with a hunger, an eagerness to break all the records. He came from Manchester United, having made quite an impression. I think he is experiencing the best moments of his career at Madrid, even though he did play really well at United.
During each game he surprises all of us, with his goals, his consistent statistics, well with everything he does. It's clear that if he continues in this way he will break all the records. At the moment, I believe, even though I still think evaluations should be done once the player has left, that he is among the greatest players in history. Of course, there are some who prefer the best, second best, third or fourth best player in the world, but one thing is for sure: He will certainly be classified among the world's best.
Who would you have, Messi or Ronaldo?
I would take them both.
Would you say they are at the same level of Pele and Diego Maradona?
Who's to decide what level they must reach and what they need to do to get to that level. I believe the level to be reached is that of Pele and Maradona, others believe it is that of [Johan] Cruyff, and now some believe it's that of Zidane. I certainly believe that Messi and Cristiano can rub shoulders with these players. There are those who believe that to do this they must win a World Cup, others disagree. What I do think, is that what they are doing at the moment, at the club level, on a regular basis, for teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona, is something that I believe has not been done before in footballing history.
Do you regret not having been able to win a World Cup, especially after Spain won the title after you left the national team?
I started off in the 2006 national team, which then went on to win the Euro (2008). I am sorry I did not get to experience that. It was Luis Aragones, the coach's decision. And I respect that decision. After 10 years, after all those years, I realistically think about being there. This is part of football and life. I am happy and pleased that I gave all that I could, those triumphs of which we all yearn for did not arrive, and then they arrived, later, in one of those moments that all Spaniards feel proud of, the winning of two Euros and a World Cup.
At one point in history, Spain was the example to follow, the whole world was looking at us and they still continue doing so. Germany won the World Cup in Brazil and they have been performing very well in recent friendlies. Now Spain, with a rejuvenated squad, in my opinion, will continue to fight for the titles, because these young players have a lot of talent and are very eager to win.
How do you like New York?
It's one of the best cities in the world, if not the best. It has it all, on all levels, in terms of sport, culture, education and housing. And of course the opportunity to be linked to the Cosmos, with its great history, and the fact that it was one of the first to put soccer on the map in the US. I'm here at a moment in time when soccer is taking its stronghold, which to be honest is due to those involved in the project and the club. I am here with these individuals, and through my playing I am able to be part of this amazing project.
And I still feel the urge to give more, to continue playing, and then to share my experiences of the football institutions and academies. Working with these kids, watching them grow, helping them develop is great. I will be an advisor at the academy. I shall share my experiences, spend time with the kids, and of course train them. Over time it will be important to determine the academy's structure. Likewise, knowing the environment in which we are in, that of the United States, I shall need time to get to know this new environment and see where there are opportunity areas for development.
You grew up in La Fabrica, Real Madrid's youth system...
At my club I experienced this a lot, in Germany [with Schalke 04] not so much. Then in Qatar, during my final stage there, I was both playing and also working with the academy Aspire, which is a marvellous organization. Here it's called NASA, and it's like the NASA of all academies. There is nothing like it in the world. In fact, it's been two very insightful years, seeing football played in a different company, with different coaching. It's this experience that we hope to create here, in a slightly different way and with a different culture, but together with the help of all of us. This club is like a family, we will all bring our experiences to the table and help the club move forward, and people will enjoy watching us.
Is the goal to get into MLS?
For me it's got nothing to do with MLS. I like the club, its history and all their plans for the future. Only time will tell what the future holds in store for football in the U.S., and more importantly how far Cosmos can go. They might go to another league or they might stay in this one, which each time seems to be getting bigger and bigger. This means that things are being done correctly, whereas before maybe they weren't. In just one year, two more teams have joined the league.
Have you spoken to David Villa, who will be playing with new MLS club New York City FC?
I know that he is here but as of yet we haven't been in touch with each other. I am sure we will get together soon. He is a great guy and I am sure that this experience will also be amazing for him. NYC FC is a team built to compete and to win. I feel that after all that he has achieved in Spain, this will prove to be a great experience for him and I am sure he will perform well.
Do people recognize you on the street in New York?
It's really relaxed. In a way you feel a little anonymous and you can take advantage of that and enjoy it. I have been lucky, as I was able to experience this anonymity both in Germany and Qatar. I am grateful for this, because when it comes to playing or family moments it helps to disconnect from it all. Having said that this city also has its advantages, as there are many people in these parts that watch football and are fans of European football.
What's attractive about Cosmos, a club where the likes of Pele and Franz Beckenbauer have played?
We shall aim to be an entertaining team, which plays football well. We want to catch people's attention, to win over the crowds. The club's history will always be there, but now the club is starting a new chapter. Nobody is hoping to return to those days, that's another story. You cannot compare the two. What we are looking for is for the people to enjoy watching us again, to write a new story. Little by little we aim to become a great club, once again recognized around the United States and hopefully internationally too. It's going to be different, and what's in the past is in the past.