By Clark Whitney | German Football Editor
It's official: Raul's German adventure will end with the current season. Schalke had offered a one-year contract extension to the Spanish legend, but he turned it down, and on Thursday officially announced that he would head overseas. His next step he has yet to decide.
In recent weeks it was mooted in the press that the main stumbling block between club and player was financial: Raul wanted more than just a year, and was unhappy with Schalke's reported offer of €3 million per season, a significant drop from his current €7m wages. But sporting director Horst Heldt announced that money was never a concern in their contract talks, and the player himself acknowledged that the decision was for family reasons.
At nearly 35 years of age, and following nearly 20 years of football at the highest level, Raul is prepared to take a new step not only in his career, but in his life. When asked whether participation in the Champions League had tempted him to extend with Schalke, he replied that there were "other factors," citing his desire for more time with his family as he revealed that he will move to a less competitive league. He leaves behind a legacy in Germany that will not soon be forgotten.
In his current home of Dusseldorf, Raul is treated as a hero. In the streets, passers-by often tip their caps and acknowledge 'Senor Raul,' even though the city's football fans typically are not supporters of Schalke. His family had no trouble settling into Germany, and his sons currently play for the youth ranks of local outfit Fortuna Dusseldorf.
RAUL | ALL-TIME SCHALKE STATS
In Gelsenkirchen, home of Schalke, he is revered as a God: on Thursday, Heldt announced that the Spaniard's number seven will be retired indefinitely, and that the player will be considered as a candidate for the Schalke Hall of Fame. He will be given a testimonial match in 2013, against a to-be-announced Spanish club.
The impact Raul made in just two years in Germany is nothing short of the profound. His 27 Bundesliga goals during his stay are not to be underestimated, but that figure only tells half the story: the veteran's reputation is built on far more than just strike rate. Rather, it is Raul's rare and unwavering commitment to professionalism that captured the hearts of Schalke supporters. Even in the twilight of his career, he always gave 100 per cent. He was always the fittest player in training, and during his stay his 95 appearances and 8287 minutes in all competitions exceeded those of all his team-mates.
Never one to go quiet on the big stage, Raul was the pulse of Schalke's attack in their improbable run to the Champions League semi-finals last season. His critical equaliser against Valencia in the first leg of their round of 16 tie put his team in command heading into the second leg. And in the memorable 7-3 quarter-final thrashing of Inter, he rallied S04 in both legs, netting the go-ahead goal in both instances. Raul always seemed to be ready to dazzle with a flourish of class, and when it mattered most, he delivered. His clever lob against Bayern in the summer of 2010 signalled the beginning of a memorable period in Schalke's history.
Considering the passion of his play, if it weren't for his accent one could easily have mistaken Raul for a Gelsenkirchen native. Immediately after Schalke's Champions League quarter-final win against Inter last season, it was he who grabbed a megaphone, climbed the retaining fence, and celebrated with fans. His 'never-say-die' attitude, his willingness to give everything for the team: such qualities are often forgotten in today's game. Such passion makes all the difference between a good player and a legend.
Raul admitted on Thursday that it will be difficult to say 'goodbye' to Germany, and his departure will be a loss not only for Schalke, but for the Bundesliga and the continent as a whole. At season's end, the greatest scorer in the history of European club competition makes his exit. Don't miss his final three games for Schalke: we won't see another like him.
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