In a list of Real Madrid icons, Raúl González Blanco would surely feature high in the ranking. A symbolic player, a homegrown talent who led the Galáctico era, he came to represent all that the club is about on the pitch. Now he’s turned his talents to doing it just off it too, beginning his career on the touchline with a journey that looks bound to lead him to the hotseat of Los Blancos at some time in the near future.
Regardless of whether he ever makes the home dugout at the Bernabéu or not, Raúl is a much-loved figure by fans. Despite the fact that his career started at Atlético Madrid, controversial president Jesús Gil shut down the club’s youth academy and Real Madrid were quick to sweep up the brightest of talents, including a teenage Raúl.
He rose through the ranks rapidly, historically scoring 16 goals in just seven games for Real Madrid C in Segunda B, with Jorge Valdano calling him up straight to the first team at the age of 17. Labelled the replacement for Emilio Butragueño, it could have been a burden too heavy for most to carry, but he soon became a regular and would go on to spend 15 consecutive seasons as a fixture in the first team, and an icon as captain and number seven.
“Raúl’s determination and work-rate was what really endeared him to Madridistas,” said fan Pablo Sánchez. “At the start, fans weren’t exactly convinced but he scored a brilliant goal against Atlético in his first derby and it won people over, then from that moment he became a fan favourite.”
In 2010, with his time coming to an end at the age of 33, Raúl decided to move on. Rather than see himself gradually become less important and fade away, he left Madrid as the club’s record goalscorer at the time with 323 goals in 741 games. Two years at Schalke in the Bundesliga followed, leading the club to their first ever Champions League semi-final in 2011 before being beaten by Manchester United.
After two seasons in Germany, Raúl’s desire to learn and determination to keep playing was evident. Looking back on the final years of his career, Raúl told icoachkids: “I learned from coaches, team-mates and opponents, I just tried to be a sponge and take the best from everyone.” Next he moved to Qatari side Al Sadd before seeing out his career with a final season at New York Cosmos in the US. Then Raúl switched his focus fully to coaching, preparing himself for a new career.
At the time of his retirement, Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez wrote an open letter to him which made clear that a return was likely: “Dear Raúl, your example will always be recognised at Real Madrid, where the doors will be open to you permanently because you grew the club’s history for years. You are a legend.” After securing his UEFA A and B licences, Raúl didn’t think twice about taking him up on the offer.
His journey began with the club’s Cadete B team at under-15 level in August 2018, but just months later, in March 2019, he would step up to the under-18s. His former team-mate Álvaro Benito caused controversy while commentating on a Copa del Rey defeat for Madrid’s first team against Barcelona, saying that Toni Kroos “doesn’t sail when the wind blows the other way” and Sergio Ramos “is very bland on the ball” and it would ultimately cost him his job, making way for Raúl to step up.
In the summer, the Castilla job would become available following a season of rotations of interim coaches after another Raúl team-mate, Santiago Solari, took charge of the first team. Having secured his UEFA Pro licence in June, allowing him to coach at any level, Raúl was the obvious candidate.
His first season in the role was brought to an early end with Castilla five points off the play-offs in Group 1 of Segunda B, with an impressive home record of nine wins from 15 games. It was the away form which let his team down, however, picking up just one victory in 13 games, the worst such record in the top half of the table.
“Castilla maybe haven’t got the results that people hoped for at the start of this season, but Real Madrid are very happy with him and his approach has impressed fans and those at the club,” explains Néstor Sáez of Manda Pelotas.
It has been just that - his approach - which has caught the eye. From the off, Raúl has laid down the law for his players. “You can’t go to play a part-time team like Las Rozas with a Louis Vuitton rucksack worth 600 euros,” he said when asked about his strict rules of club-issue rucksacks and trainers for players only on matchdays and at training, where headphones and accessories are banned.
Players are expected at Valdebebas at least one hour and 15 minutes before the session starts, whilst Sáez reveals that “if a player turns up less than an hour-and-a-half before the session, Raúl sees it as arriving late.” What’s more, double sessions are run every Wednesday, something that Zinedine Zidane only does with the first team during pre-season.
“The coach that can manage people, not players, will be successful,” Raúl insists. “From my coaches, I remember the human part. That they cared about me, that they listened, that they gave me great advice.”
That was on his mind when Real Madrid sent a camera crew to Valdebebas to film Raúl and his team in training for part of a documentary about the club’s youth system, La Fábrica. But Raúl turned them away, refusing to allow them access to his team’s session. Such concentration, commitment and dedication is clear, not wanting any distractions for his squad.
The future is bright for Raúl. Many have tipped him to follow in the footsteps of yet another former team-mate, Zidane. Fast-tracked through the coaching set-up, he took charge of Castilla before moving to an assistant’s role in the first-team and eventually taking up the top job. Equally, Solari moved from Castilla to the first team. Not since Carlo Ancelotti left in 2015 has a man in the Real Madrid dug-out not taken charge of Castilla at one time or another.
Few expected Raúl to move through the system so quickly, from under-15s to Castilla in just two seasons. He is in no rush though, and his desire to learn is evident. Still, Madridistas will always dream. “As a fan, Raúl is an icon. If Zidane’s appointment made us happy, Raúl being in charge would be even better!” Sánchez told La Liga Lowdown.