Rallying around the Raúl divide
Player showered with praise as national coach hints he could return to fold.
6 December 2007
MADRID - On the eve of tonight's Santiago Bernabéu Trophy exhibition game, where he will be honoured, the only six-time European Cup winner and Spanish soccer legend Paco Gento called the fact that Real Madrid skipper Raúl still finds himself out of the national team an "enormous injustice." "There is no other player as smart and as alive as Raúl," Gento added, pointing to what the striker himself has described as his "best season start ever."
Gento's comments, along with a proposed Spanish Soccer Federation homage to the player (not typical for someone still playing), the As prize given Raúl by the sports daily for being best soccer player of the year, and a vocal grass-roots fan and Madrid-based media movement, show that what is becoming increasingly evident: that a clear line is being drawn down the gaping middle of the Raúl divide.
There are those, like Gento, who consider national coach Luis Aragonés' decision to marginalise Raúl deeply unfair, especially after his strong two-goal display against Racing last weekend. Raúl is the current Liga top goal scorer (tied at eight with Sevilla's Luis Fabiano and Barcelona's Leo Messi) but he has not been asked to rejoin the team he once symbolised and for which he played 102 games until being briskly substituted during Spain's 2006 World Cup second round loss to France.
Others have been revelling in Arágones' new-school success sans Raúl, in a year the coach recently declared will be his last in soccer. The eternally underperforming Spain has seemed to have found the right combination of late, and will go to the 2008 European championship as leader of its qualification group. Youngsters such as Cesc Fábregas, Andrés Iniesta and David Villa currently make up part of Aragonés' new five-man attack-oriented middle line à-la Barça, that represents both a change of strategy and also a changing of the guard.
What does not seem so clear is where the veteran Raúl would fit in this fresh-faced squad. Would his legendary presence be smothering, some ask? Is it time to put out to curb yesterday's news and welcome in the new?
Rául, for his part has made no effort to hide his desire to rejoin the national team, but up until recently his pleas have fallen on deaf ears. However, in a recent interview with a sports daily, Aragonés admitted "the door was not closed," to Raúl. But the coach also didn't rule out looking deeper into Spain's youth talent pool, this time considering Barcelona's 17-year old phenomenon, Bojan Krkic, who is Raúl's junior by 13 years.
What is clear is that no matter what side of the Raúl fence one falls on, the legend has an unrivalled capacity - in Spain at least - to invoke the strongest of opinions and purest of emotions.
[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ KELLY RAMUNDO 2007]
Subject: Spanish news