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Raul Gonzalez: a Real Madrid, Spain and Schalke legend. - © DFL
Raul Gonzalez: a Real Madrid, Spain and Schalke legend. - © DFL
bundesliga

Raul: The Real Madrid and Spain legend's Schalke years and Bundesliga legacy

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Raul seemed destined to be a one-club man until, in 2010, he left Real Madrid for Bundesliga outfit Schalke, where he would emphatically continue his legend.

After joining Real's academy as a 15-year-old in 1992, Raul went on to spend 18 years at the club, during which he would become one of the greatest strikers the game had ever seen.

Only Cristiano Ronaldo boasts more goals for Real than Raul's 323, and he was the man Los Blancos built their Galacticos around as player and club helped define football's modern era.

Raul had collected six La Liga winner's medals and lifted the UEFA Champions League three times by the time he called time on his career in the Spanish capital in 2010, with the then 33-year-old opting for Gelsenkirchen as he sought a fresh challenge.

"It's great news for FC Schalke 04," said coach at the time, Felix Magath. "I'm pleased that we have succeeded in such an exceptional footballer and world-class striker switching to the Bundesliga. He will be an inspiration. His qualities will help us."

Schalke had finished second in the table the previous season and the prospect of playing Champions League football at the Veltins-Arena was a major draw for the Spaniard.

So, too, was Schalke's desire to win Raul's signature ahead of a host of Europe's top clubs, with the southpaw striker explaining: "[Schalke] were the ones who did the most to make me feel wanted."

Magath played a major role in making Raul feel that way, with the iconic German tactician revealing in later years that a conversation over lunch left both player and coach more than satisfied to strike a deal.

“I was able to convey to him that he has the fullest support with us," Magath recalled in an interview with Bild in 2021. "What was great was that the salary didn't interest him at all. It was important to him that Schalke qualified for the Champions League. He didn't say it literally, but I could hear it clearly.”

Felix Magath (l.) played a significant role in persuading Raul (r.) to move to Schalke. - /

It was a major coup for the club, with Magath assembling a side packed full of talent that contained the likes of Manuel Neuer, Julian Draxler, Ivan Rakitic and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

The arrival of Raul was the icing on the cake, and there wasn't a single player in the squad that wasn't left starry-eyed by their new teammate.

“When Raul stood in front of me, I couldn’t talk,” Draxler later told Goal. “I wanted to say in English, ‘Hello, I am Julian.’ But only mumbling came out.

“I absorbed everything from him and tried to change my game in a way that he was happy with. I asked him after training sessions or games, which runs I should do if he has the ball, which kind of pass he wants to have if I have the ball."

Left-back Christian Fuchs, who joined the club a year later, added: “He was incredible. He wasn’t just a great footballer, he was a gentleman and one of the nicest players I have ever played alongside. I think that was the first and last time I was starstruck in football.”

Watch: Raul's top 5 Bundesliga goals

It did take a while for Raul and Schalke to click, however, as they opened the season with four defeats from four and it wasn't until Matchday 6 of the campaign that Raul found the back of the net.

And while the club were inconsistent in the Bundesliga, they were starting to hit their groove in Europe by October.

Raul struck his first European goals for the club by hitting a brace in the home win over Hapoel Tel Aviv, and scored hat-tricks against Werder Bremen and Cologne that hinted at the magic to come.

"I'm enjoying myself like a little boy," Raul beamed once he hit his stride. "Schalke, for me, is a great adventure, and I wanted to experience new sensations away from Real Madrid."

Some of those sensations would have been familiar for Raul but not for Schalke, who topped their Champions League group before a Raul strike in his homeland earned a vital away goal against Valencia that helped them progress to the round of 16.

There, Raul was again on the scoresheet in a famous 5-2 first leg win at Inter Milan. He struck in the second leg, too, as Schalke reached their first Champions League semi-final before eventually coming unstuck against Manchester United.

The Royal Blues would go one further in the DFB Cup, with Raul grabbing the all-important winner against Bayern Munich that sent them into the final, which they comprehensively won 5-0 against Duisburg.

It was Raul's domestic cup win of his career, and he would win the DFL Supercup ahead of the following campaign.

The DFB Cup provided Raul with his first taste of club gold with Schalke. - IMAGO / ActionPictures

In his second - and final - season with the club, Raul helped Schalke to a third-placed finish in the Bundesliga and run to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, before ending his spell at the Veltins with 40 goals in 98 appearances - two of which were named 2011 and 2013 Goal of the Year winners.

After just two years, Raul and Schalke departed as if they'd spent a lifetime together and the club not only gave him a testimonial, but they briefly retired his number seven shirt in honour of the great Spaniard.

"Schalke will always be something special to me," said Raul. "I will always carry S04 in my heart. I don't think it's very common for a player to hold two clubs so deep in his heart as I do with Real and Schalke. It was a much briefer time with Schalke, but at the same time it was so incredibly powerful."

It had such an impact that Raul's time in Germany, and the spotlight it shone on the Bundesliga, opened the door for his countrymen to follow.

Watch: Raul bids a fond farewell to Schalke

And they did so in their droves.

Prior to Raul's arrival there had been just eight Spaniards that played in the German top-flight and there was a five-year stint between Diego Leon making his debut as number eight and Raul as a fitting number nine on the list.

There have been 45 since, with the likes of Javi Martinez, Thiago, Xabi Alonso, Dani Olmo and Angelino all following in Raul's illustrious footsteps by carving careers in the Bundesliga.

Raul walked so they could run.