Raul - The Best Predator In Champions League

"Real buy these big players like Figo, Zidane and Ronaldo but I think the best player in the world is Raul." - Sir Alex Ferguson commented on Raul after he scored two goals against Manchester United in 2003
He wears it well - 33 years and 385 goals. Raul Gonzalez doesn't look too many seasons beyond the 26th birthday he was approaching when he scored twice against Manchester United in 2003, and Sir Alex Ferguson called him the best in the world. Destiny and no shortage of dogged determination on both sides brings them together again in a Champions League semi-final that also reunites Raul with Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs - two players whose raging against the dying of the light he has emulated, with the same unwavering professionalism and love of the game.

"What we have in common is that we love this profession. Football is our lives. They are great professionals who look after themselves and who train properly. For Giggs to still be playing at this level at 37 years of age is incredible. He is still playing every three or four days and often in various positions - in midfield or out wide. He is still adding new things to his game and you can only admire that. Facing them again makes this match all the more special and I hope I can swap shirts at the end of the game with Giggs. It will be a great honour to have that shirt," Raul said.

The fact that Ferguson, Giggs and Scholes have soldiered on together at Old Trafford is remarkable; but that Raul has added five more goals to his Champions League tally this season, taking his record haul to 71, and that he finds himself two matches from the final with a team who are mid-table in the Bundesliga, is nothing short of astounding.

Ferguson, speaking after those two goals gave Real Madrid a 3-1 first-leg lead eight years ago, said, "Real buy these big players like Figo, Zidane and Ronaldo but I think the best player in the world is Raul." He probably never was football's No 1 but his expensive team-mates from that Galacticos side have since retired and Raul is still breaking records. Former Real Madrid winger Santiago Solari recently described him as ‘the best in everything, without being the best at anything'.

Raul also played against United in the quarter-finals in 2000, scoring two in the second-leg at Old Trafford in a 3-2 win after a 0-0 draw at the Bernabeu. He went on to win the final that year, scoring in a 3-0 victory over Valencia.

Raul was close to moving to Manchester United at the end of last season but he joined Schalke, instead. "There was a possibility and the only person who knows if it was a real possibility or not was Ferguson. It never went as far as me talking with him, but there was contact," the Spaniard admitted.

The suggestion is that United's manager considered the move but harboured doubts that were not displayed by then-Schalke boss Felix Magath. And what Raul needed more than anything after a season out of favour at Real Madrid was a coach who would play him week-in, week-out.

Related Articles:
Magnificent Twelve Of The Last Decade
Tribute: Raul's Top Moments With Real Madrid
Tribute: Madrid Legend Raul, Set For Schalke
Classy Raul Is Still The "Real" Deal
Raul Enjoying A New Lease On Life

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