When Raul became a Schalke legend while teaching Draxler, Pukki & Fuchs
When an ageing Raul moved to Schalke 04 in 2010, fans couldn’t believe their luck.
That summer, Real Madrid veterans like Guti, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Raul were faced with two problems: the increasing influence of a new generation of Galacticos, and the ruthless plans of new boss Jose Mourinho — problems that forced them to find new homes.
And despite reported interest from Manchester United and the Middle East, Raul chose the coal-mining hotspot of Gelsenkirchen as his next destination.
“At first I thought it was a joke: why would the greatest player in Madrid’s history be coming to play here?” said Ivan Rakitic, then a promising 22-year-old at the Bundesliga outfit. “He had a sparkle in his eyes that made you think, ‘This guy has won and knows how to do it, he smells victory and he goes for it.’”
Though Schalke had just finished 2nd in the Bundesliga when Raul signed, the club hadn’t won a major trophy since 2002. Experienced coach Felix Magath saw Raul as a figure who could change that.
“We have signed an exceptional footballer and world-class goalscorer,” Magath said. “His signing is a decisive step in our efforts to strengthen and restructure the squad.”
In fact, Raul was one of four former Real Madrid players to arrive in the summer of 2010. Would Madrid’s all-time top goalscorer have been excited to reunite with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Christoph Metzelder and Jose Manuel Jurado, none of whom made the grade at the Bernabeu? Possibly not, but these were statement signings nonetheless.
Just four days after his arrival, Raul scored two goals in a pre-season win over Bayern Munich, one of which was a trademark scoop from outside the box. Kevin Kuranyi had scored plenty of goals over the last five years, but this was unfamiliar viewing.
Although Raul would stay in Germany for just two seasons, he would make a huge impact at Schalke, inspiring a number of young talents, scoring some mind-blowing goals and, crucially, delivering silverware.
For about two months, it looked like Schalke’s own Galactico era could be a very expensive mistake.
The club began the 2010–11 Bundesliga season with four straight defeats and four straight games without a goal for Raul. By the end of October, they were flirting with relegation and the forward had just one goal under his belt.
The Bundesliga was a write-off by Christmas. But despite the struggles in the league, something special was brewing at the club. Schalke had cruised through their Champions League group, seeing off Benfica, Lyon and Hapoel Tel Aviv, and by February Raul was heading back to Spain for a last 16 clash against Valencia.
His second-half equaliser provided a crucial away goal, and three weeks later Schalke secured their place in the quarter-finals with a 4-2 aggregate victory.
Meanwhile, the club were making exciting progress in the German domestic cup, the DFB-Pokal. In early March, Raul’s header was enough to see off holders Bayern in the semis, earning them a spot in the final for the first time since 2005.
But some of Raul’s greatest contributions to the Schalke cause weren’t so immediately obvious to spectators.
At the time, Julian Draxler was a teenage Schalke academy graduate on the fringes of the first team. Raul’s arrival changed his career.
“When Raul stood in front of me, I couldn’t talk,” Draxler revealed to Goal in 2019. “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.
“He realised that I wanted to learn from him… this eventually led to a friendship.”
Humiliating the champions
Schalke’s Champions League victory over Valencia set up a mouth-watering quarter-final against reigning champions Inter — a team containing several of Raul’s former teammates: Esteban Cambiasso, Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto’o, each decidedly more glamorous than Christoph Metzelder.
On April 5, the German team travelled to Milan for the first leg, and it would prove to be one of the games of the season.
Fans had barely found their seats by the time Schalke’s Manuel Neuer produced a trademark diving header to clear the ball to Inter’s Dejan Stankovic, who promptly volleyed the ball from the centre circle straight back into Neuer’s net. The game had produced one of the most iconic European goals of all time… after 25 seconds.
But conceding an embarrassing wondergoal didn’t demoralise Raul’s side. Joel Matip equalised after 17 minutes, and the game was 2-2 by half time. Despite his mistake, Neuer put on a masterclass.
And it was Raul himself who stepped up early in the second half to give Schalke the lead. A perfect touch got him away from the scrum cap-wearing Christian Chivu, and the subsequent finish beat Julio Cesar at the near post.
Then, as if to get revenge for the Stankovic fiasco, the Königsblauen proceeded to humiliate their opponents, ultimately winning 5-2.
Schalke’s Brazilian striker Edu bagged two goals for himself, but he was full of praise for his Spanish team-mate after the match.
“Raul is an incredible player,” Edu said. “He scores in training, he scores in matches and he made a crucial contribution tonight, much as he has done all season. He is a player who can, and does, make the difference at this level, time and again.”
Raul scored again and set up another in the home leg, making it 7-3.
It was the first time in Schalke’s history they had reached the Champions League semi-finals, and Raul — always at ease in the competition — had played no small part in the achievement.
They were unable to overcome Manchester United and reach the final, but their disappointment abated just a few weeks later as they triumphed 5-0 over second-tier Duisburg in the DFB-Pokal final for their first major trophy in nine years.
In his second season for Schalke, Raul cemented his legacy, helping the club to a much better league finish and scoring some unbelievable goals along the way.
No fewer than three Raul strikes were crowned the German Goal of the Month over the 2011-12 season, the best of which saw the Spaniard casually rake the ball past Hannover goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler and pass the ball into the net with his weaker foot.
And the Spanish legend continued to exert a positive influence on his teammates. That season, Huntelaar began scoring at an absurd rate, and the Dutchman heaped praise on his strike partner.
“It is great to play alongside him because he is very experienced, clever, and has seen so much,” Huntelaar said.
Teemu Pukki was another striker to benefit from the presence of the former Madrid talisman, although his praise was somewhat less effusive.
“Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is one of the best goalscorers in the world and even watching him in training and in games you can learn from him,” he told the Daily Record. “I also played with Raul who is another good striker to learn from.”
Current Premier League full-back Christian Fuchs, meanwhile, is still in awe of what he saw on the Schalke training ground.
“I regularly show the lads at Leicester videos of Raul from when I used to play with him,” he told Goal in 2020. “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.”
When Raul announced his intention to leave towards the end of the 2011-12 season, Schalke made the somewhat melodramatic decision to retire his No.7 jersey, although they would ultimately renege on that promise after just a year.
But he remains a massively popular figure at Schalke and was even linked with the vacant managerial position last year. Given their current struggles — they sit bottom and need at least another draw to avoid the worst Bundesliga points tally in history — maybe they should have tried harder to get him.