Raúl de Tomás: A throwback footballer with it all to prove
Slicked-back hair, neat as a pin and working his way through games with the bravado of a flamenco dancer, Raúl de Tomás (also known as RDT) has fought tooth and nail to get to where he is now: a talisman and fan-favourite for RCD Espanyol. When you add his first international call-up, you start to get the picture of a man who is on a mission.
Aged 27, he has had to wait patiently for his opportunity with the national side and, now that it has arrived, you sense he will do everything to keep his place in Luis Enrique’s Spain squad.
RDT’s call-up came as little surprise. His performances for a newly-promoted Espanyol side has seen him rack up seven goals in 13 games, making him the highest-scoring Spanish player in the LaLiga thus far.
He returned to the league as ‘Pichichi’ in last season’s Segunda División, with 23 goals. His ability to score all kinds of goals, close-range efforts, long-range, headers and penalties, has resulted in him forcing his way into the national side.
Back in October, I was fortunate enough to witness him during Espanyol’s match against Athletic Club, a game in which de Tomás scored a penalty as the game finished 1-1.
From what I saw, it was clear to appreciate his credentials that watching on television may hide. He was bullish in his challenge, lurking around the Athletic Club defence and always providing an outlet to his teammates with his calculated movements.
Unfortunately for the striker, he let his frustration overshadow his impressive performance by needlessly lashing out at Yeray Álvarez in the 93rd minute, resulting in a straight red card. There is no doubt that it was unnecessary, but it did show that he at least had a bit of bite, and passion.
If that attitude were to be channelled correctly, the player could give Lucho and Spain a real ‘eje’, an axis to revolve around.
Following an injury to Ansu Fati, RDT was chosen by the manager as his replacement for Spain’s World Cup qualifiers against Greece and Sweden. In truth, not many LaLiga followers were surprised with the news, and no-one less so than the Espanyol striker himself.
On 3rd October, after scoring in their 2-1 home win over Real Madrid, de Tomás was asked in his post-match interview if he saw himself at the level to play in the national side, to which he replied, “Yes, why not?' The reality is yes.” And so it proved, one month later.
Stats-wise, he was an obvious inclusion in a rather short-staffed Spanish attack. He averages a goal every 150 minutes this season in the league and gets around four shots off every game, with half of those on target. They are by no means world-beater numbers, but the nature in which they come about make him a lethal asset to Espanyol and Spain.
From his seven goals this campaign, three have been scored with his right foot, two with his weaker left foot and two with his head – and five have come in each of the previous five games going into the last international break. His ability to turn a half-chance into a goal only adds to the, at times, graceful on-pitch persona that he has created. A compelling case for a call-up.
Leading into the Greece game, Luis Enrique was positive about what RDT had brought to the team in his first few training sessions. “We are a team that depends on 11 players to press. I really liked what I saw of him in the two training sessions and I knew he was going to complement us,” the manager told the media. "He gives us continuity, he has the ability to shoot and helps improve defensively. He has been great."
Lucho then rewarded the player’s hard work in training with a start against Greece on the right of a front three, with Álvaro Morata through the middle and Pablo Sarabia on the left.
Unlike the number six that RDT wore on the back of his shirt, his performance was conventional and purposeful. The Espanyol forward linked well with his new teammates and drifted in between defensive and midfield lines well to make himself available, as well as drag defenders out of position.
During the game against Greece, he played just shy of an hour before being replaced by Leeds United’s Rodrigo Moreno, as Spain held out for a 1-0 win. Following his debut, he was clearly proud of himself to have played and said in his post-match interview: “It was an unforgettable day. I’m very proud to have represented my country… I’d like to thank the manager for having faith in me and thanks to my teammates and everyone for making it easy for me. Now I’m looking forward to Sunday.” He was then asked how he responded to finding out that he would be starting. “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting it!” he said with a smirk.
His work-rate was enough to convince Luis Enrique to start him again in Spain’s decisive match against Sweden in Sevilla, with automatic qualification at stake.
On this occasion he started through the middle with Dani Olmo and Pablo Sarabia either side of him. Instead of wearing the number six shirt, he was given a more fitting number 11. Against Greece, ‘RDT’ was the lettering on his jersey, this time his shirt read ‘Raúl de Tomás’ on the back and there was raised expectation on his shoulders after completing his debut.
In front of a sell-out La Cartuja, RDT started the game well. He took up good positions, as he had done against Greece, linking well with Gavi and Olmo. With all eyes in Spain on this game, I found myself watching it in a bar in central Madrid. Around the 20th minute, de Tomás had a chance to get a shot on goal but stuttered, leading to complaints from fellow patrons “hay que tirar” (“you have to shoot”). The older gentleman in the bar was not wrong, and his frustration was surely shared by the striker, who just couldn’t show the killer instinct that he is synonymous with when playing for his club.
Again, the striker was substituted on the hour mark with the game goalless. It took a late winner from Morata to absolutely confirm automatic qualification for La Roja. At the full-time whistle, the jubilation and relief was clear on the faces of the Spain player, but de Tomás will have felt that the match was another missed opportunity to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
It will be interesting to see how Luis Enrique assesses the performances of the fringe players that he called up to the team to compensate for the injuries suffered by his regulars. Now, the question surrounding our striker in question is: once Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres and Mikel Oyarzabal are available for selection, will RDT be given another shot in a Spain shirt?
Perhaps Lucho will have appreciated having the striker in the group for his ability to offer something different to the team, and he was clearly taken in well by his teammates. No-one knows better than Luis Enrique that competition is healthy and can raise performances greatly, so it is definitely far too early to rule out a return for de Tomás.
One thing is for certain, however – the Espanyol man will be looking forward to getting back to club football and amongst the goals again. After all, that was how he was rewarded with his call-up in the first place.
Despite the pride that comes with achieving an international debut, even at this early stage of his Spain career, he will be disappointed not to have been the leading light for his country on its road to Qatar. Instead, RDT will be left hopeful of another opportunity to cement his place for La Roja in the run-up to the World Cup next winter.
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