International Soccer
Real Madrid sold its 'soul' to Schalke

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Raul in Royal Blue? Fitting, I guess, even if it's tough to imagine. Raul ended his 16-year stay at Real Madrid this week and started his second life at Schalke on Thursday.

Signed to a "lifetime contract" by Real Madrid just two years ago, the Spanish legend was allowed to walk away from the only club he's ever known. He has 323 goals in 741 career games, but the 33-year-old was no longer wanted.

Real Madrid has made this mistake before, just not at this Everest-like level. Just last offseason, Real discarded Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder and their new teams, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, made the Champions League final.

There comes a time in every player's life, even those with so-called "lifetime contracts," when it's time to hang it up. But Raul still had plenty to give Real - just ask Schalke coach Felix Magath.

Raul scored twice in the Champions League, increasing his own record to 66 career goals in the competition.
"We can present the fans," Magath said at a news conference on Thursday, "with one of the best players in the world."

Raul will trade his iconic No. 7 Real Madrid jersey for Schalke colors, though that's almost like picturing Cal Ripken in Yankee pinstripes.

"He was the soul of Real Madrid," Italy's Francesco Totti said on his website.

That said, just a few thousand fans came to the Bernabeu to send him off. A year ago, the stadium was almost full when Cristiano Ronaldo arrived. How easily we forget Raul led Real Madrid to three Champions League titles.

Although Raul's role was limited last season for Real, he still appeared in 40 games in all competitions. He scored twice in the Champions League, increasing his own record to 66 career goals in the competition.

The German team was second behind Bayern in the Bundesliga last year to secure a spot in the group stage of this season's Champions League. Raul could get an early look at his old team, if Schalke and Real are drawn together.

Regardless, Raul is set to break a tie with AC Milan's Filippo Inzaghi for the all-time scoring lead in European competitions. Both have 68 career goals.

Schalke does not have Real's history, but Raul fills the only huge hole in the Royal Blues' lineup after 18-goal scorer Kevin Kuranyi left earlier this year.

Schalke will contend for the league title and it will compete in the Champions League. Sound familiar Madrid? Real finished second in Spain's La Liga and was eliminated in the Champions League round of 16 for the sixth straight time one season ago.

"Our aim should be to have a major say in the [league] title race," said Raul, who retired as Spain's all-time scoring leader four years ago with 44 goals in 102 games. "It's going to be tough in the Champions League."

Real made it easier for Schalke by letting Raul depart. Thank you cards by the dozens should be on their way from Gelsenkirchen to Madrid.

"If anyone knows the true significance of the Champions League it's him," said German Christoph Metzelder, who also left Real this offseason to join Schalke.

Raul signed a two-year contract with Schalke and said on Thursday his years at Real Madrid were "officially" over. He lead Real to six La Liga titles, and if he can end Schalke's title drought, which dates to 1958, he will be an icon at Veltins-Arena as well.

Raul may have joined Schalke on a free transfer, but Real sold its soul by allowing him to leave.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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