Raúl: Bull but not a bullfighter

La Liga, Spanish Players

In 1998, after Real Madrid won the Champions League final, a 1-0 win against Juventus, Raúl took a Spanish flag from the crowd. To the music of the bull-fighting arena, he used the Spanish red-and-yellow for a dance similar to the way bullfighters challenge their opponents. At the end of 1999, the Spaniards chose this moment as the most memorable sports moments of the twentieth century.

After Raúl, many other Spanish players would imitate the gaudy spectacle, Sergio Ramos for example. Raúl would also repeat the show several times, a his farewell from Real Madrid for instance, in 2010. ‘He is the best of the best’ club president Perez said on this day. Raul has scored 323 times for the club, won six league titles and won the Champions League three times, but still. According to some, he did not manage to be a bullfighter: he acted to much a the bull itself.

The veneration for Raul in Spain is enormous

In his book La Roja, A Journey through Spanish football, Jimmy Burns uses bullfighting as a metaphor to illustrate the change that Spanish football went through, starting in the run up to the European Championships in 2008, the first time ever that the Spanish won a major international title.

Star player Raul was not selected for the 2008 team. National coach Luis Aragonés did not consider his head down playing style suitable for the future. In his view, the Spaniards should not play like bulls, but like bullfighters: smartly wearing down and eventually killing their opponents with deceptive movements. This metaphor ties in nicely with the tikkie-takka football that reulted in Spain becoming European champions twice in a row. And more importantly: World Champions in 2010. The Olé, Oléthat the Spanish fans sang to applaud the many passes fitted in seamlessly with this new, successful image of Spanish players as bullfighters.

Although Raul played 102 international matches, he never won important titles with the Spanish team. However the veneration for him in Spain is enormous. In a portrait about Raul for AP news agency, Kristof Stephan Keyganert tells a story about the Spanish national coach Luis Aragones who had not selected him for some time. Aragones explained: ‘Spain played three World Cups and two European Championships with Raul. What have we gained from this? Nothing’. After a wave of outrage, the Spanish Football Association writes an apolog in a letter, calling for more respect for Raul.

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