For a long time, the only man who played in Spain and mattered in the Champions League was Raul.
Indeed, he was described by Pep Guardiola, no less, as “the most important player in Spanish football history”, but has perhaps been left behind a little, or at least overshadowed by the goalscoring feats of Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi.
“He has been, because Ronaldo and Messi for six or seven seasons averaged a goal per game,” said Alvaro Romeo on this Thursday’s edition of the Totally Football Show. “Raul’s average was around 0.41, which was astonishing at the time. Also when he started playing, scorelines weren’t that high, and the difference between Barcelona and Real Madrid and the rest of the teams wasn’t as big, so it wasn’t as easy to score goals.”
We looked back on the Champions League of 1995/96 on this week’s show, which was the season that a young Raul really came to prominence. He scored a hat-trick aged just 18 years and 114 days, in the group stage against Ferencvaros, making him still the youngest player to score a Champions League treble, and helped introduce Real back onto the big European stage after a long time away.
“They were suffering in Spain because Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona had won four titles in a row, so Real Madrid was absent from the Champions League for five years,” said Alvaro.
“This was their return to the competition: they came second in their group behind Ajax, and there was probably not a display of quality by a foreign team in Madrid like Ajax did in 1995. To the point that every former Real player, and all the newspapers, understood that Ajax was at a different evolutive level to Real.
“But at the same time Real were getting to grips with what playing in the Champions League was like, and a certain player called Raul broke into the Champions League as a star.
“He scored six goals in that campaign, still 18-years-old, and proved from the beginning that he could be Real Madrid’s star for the next decade. That team wasn’t the ‘Hollywood’ team they are now, and he basically took the reins from a very young age.
“Raul has always been there, and he was the catalyst for Real Madrid to win a few Champions Leagues, in 1998, 2000 and 2002. That season [95/96] for Raul was one where he matured: he fell out with the manager, Arsenio Iglesias, so much that the club had to fine him €6,000, and he also started doing too many adverts and the club had to warn him that wasn’t acceptable and he had to focus on football.”
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