Spain has never had a shortage of
good players but -- with the possible exception of Luis Suarez
-- no one born in the country has ever really captured the
imagination as a true global superstar.
The likes of Alfredo Di Stefano, Ladislao Kubala and Ferenc
Puskas were all adopted Spaniards, and loved around the world,
but parochial Spanish fans have been crying out for decades for
someone to who could be looked upon as Suarez's natural-born
Real Madrid's Raul Gonzalez is the nearest that anyone has
come in recent years to being held in the same sort of esteem as
the great players of the 1950s and 1960s -- and a good showing
at the European Championship finals could elevate his status
The 22-year-old striker -- he celebrates his 23rd birthday
in the middle of Euro 2000 on June 27 -- has all the attributes
to make it big in the modern game.
Good looks, a model for a wife, and nerves of steel in front
of goal are just a few of his facets.
He was one of only two men who played in all eight of
Spain's qualifying matches, and scored eight goals.
Despite his youth Raul has already amassed 29 caps (correct
to end of May) and become a permanent fixture in the Spanish
He made his international debut in 1996, against the Czech
Republic at the age of 19, and has missed only three matches
Many thought he would make his mark at the last World Cup
finals but for a man who had barely just left the ranks of being
teenager, France '98 came too early in his career for him to
make an major impact.
Raul arrived tired. A grueling post-European Cup winning
campaign had seen his form dip.
He was mentally exhausted from continually having to rebut
Spanish media accusations that he was constantly night clubbing.
Not surprisingly, he failed to impress apart from an
outstanding goal against Nigeria.
However, he recovered quickly from the disappointment.
Last season he was the leading goal scorer in the Spanish
first division with 23 goals, beating off the challenge of such
hot shots as Barcelona's Rivaldo and Valencia's Claudio Lopez.
This year has seen his growing maturity rewarded with the
Real Madrid captain's armband on occasions.
However, the captaincy must seem almost like a long service
award to Raul after all the years he has already spent in Real
Madrid's first team squad.
Raul came to the attention of former coach and Argentine
World Cup winner Jorge Valdano when playing in Real Madrid
Valdano spotted the youngster's talent and promoted him
quickly. On October 29, 1994 -- at the 17 years and four months
-- Raul pulled on the famous all-white outfit and made his
Spanish first division debut in a 3-2 defeat at Real Zaragoza.
Surely the best player in the world now