Friday, November 11, 2011

Raúl and the club of 100 caps

Yesterday, an event promoted by UEFA and the Spanish FA made a tribute on the modern myths of the Spanish NT: they players who have more than 100 caps with La Roja. Andoni Zubizarreta (126 caps), Iker Casillas (125 caps) and Xavi Hernández (105 caps) were in the facilities of the RFEF in Las Rozas and got a commemorative blue cap with a golden tassel for it. Angel María Villar, the president of the Spanish FA, said: "Only those who have been football players know how difficult this is".

The cap is a symbol, it represents the first international match, played in 1872 between England and Scotland. Each player of this match were given a cap as memento of this match and this tradition still continues in England. Also László Kubala, in his times as coach of the Spanish NT, used to give a cap to the players that were called to play the international matches.

Xavi, Casillas and Zubizarreta

The first Spanish player to reach the 100 caps record was the goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta, who defended the shirt of the Spanish team from 1985 to 1998, playing 4 World Cups and 2 Euros, while playing for different clubs like Athletic, Barcelona and Valencia. In his speech, Zubizarreta made his personal tribute on players who also deserved to reach these 100 games, but never did it, like "Iribar, Arconada, Hierro or Camacho".

Iker Casillas also got his cap, the captian of the team, the one who raised the Euro and World Cup trophies in images that will be kept forever in the retinas of the Spanish people. Iker Casillas recalled that he was called for the first time 11 years ago and assured that he faced "the next match as it was the last". Iker Casillas probably represents the times of a golden generation of goalkeepers in Spain, including his teammates Pepe Reina and Victor Valdés, not forgetting others who are triumphing in La Liga or abroad. As good captain, he also recalled all the teammates he had in all these years. "Without them, it would not have been possible".

Zubizarreta

A double tribute awaited for Xavi Hernández, who also got the gold medal of the RFEF, aside the already mentioned UEFA's cap. Surrounded by two special coaches for him, like Luis Aragonés and Vicente Del Bosque, Xavi assured that he felt "priviled to live from football, achieving so many things of a sport that I love and adore". The Catalan midfielder, who made his debut in the year 2000, made some memory and recalled that, in this team, "we lived not so good eras, like nowadays, but with all this recognition and these victories, I am enjoying like a kid". Xavi also got a particular tribute in the words of Del Bosque and Aragonés. The current coach of the Spanish team used him as an example by stating that Xavi "represents the modern player in and out of the pitch, a singular player, gathering too much football in his boots, a very complete player". Luis Aragonés, who Xavi himself labaled as the coach who made him reach a new level, highlighted the "virtues of this player and his extraordinary quality" to raise the importance of this player in the current scheme by assuring that "the influence of the coach is not that high, the example is Xavi for his way to live and play".

This event also made a tribute to several players for the importance of their goals in the history of the Spanish national team. Five paintings of these goals were shown. We refer to the goal of Zarra in Maracaná in the World Cup 1950 against England, which allowed Spain to end up in the fourth position of this tournament, which was the highest achievement of this competition for this team until the last World Cup. The goal headed by Marcelino against the USSR in the Euro 64 final in the Santiago Bernabéu, the first international title of the team. The winning goal of Kiko Narváez against Poland in the last minutes of the Olympic Games 1992 in Barcelona's Camp Nou, a goal which was worth a gold medal. The goal of Torres in Vienna, in the Euro 2008, the goal that opened the era of the champions. And, of course, Andrés Iniesta's historical volley in Johannesburg, in the South Africa World Cup final.

Iker Casillas and the Euro 2008

Another played had been invited to this tribute, another player who also has more than 100 caps: Raúl González. The nowadays Schalke 04 player and already madridista and Spanish NT legend declined the invitation with a very weak excuse sent via fax: a training session with his current team, because Schalke had a friendly match. Yesterday, the department of communication of his own club denied the existence of this friendly match. Raúl erased himself from this tribute, showing his personal feelings in a historical error.

There was a time when Raúl was a living legend inside the Spanish team. Raúl broke all the goal-scoring records, he was the Gran Capitán, the Siete de España (the 7 of Spain). In the summer of 2006, Luis Aragonés' Spanish team had failed in the World Cup played in Germany. The more experienced French team had knocked out a team that mixed veteran players like Michel Salgado, David Albelda, Santi Cañizares and Raúl González with the core of young players that nowadays form the golden generation of the Spanish football. This failure had a bitter taste and there were rumors of rebellion inside the Spanish team, led by the veterans. Salgado, Albelda and Cañizared disappeared from the team for good, but Raúl was the captain.

Xavi, leader and reference

In the following official match, already in the qualifiers of the Euro 2008, Spain visited Belfast to face Northern Ireland. With the smoke of the ashes of the previous tournament visible, Spain failed in a miserable way and got a shameful 3-2 defeat. The press exploded and Luis Aragonés was targeted. At that moment, Luis Aragonés took a decisive decision, dropping Raúl González from the national team to give a new protagonist role to the young generation led by Xavi as the reference of the new style. The decision was an earthquake and, despite the results backed the team, Luis Aragonés had to deal with uncomfortable questions about Raúl in every press conference. The pressure was huge on the coach, a rising pressure while the Euro 2008 got closer and closer, while Raúl recovered his best goal ratio. In the 2006/2007 season, Raúl scored 23 goals and, in the following season, 24 goals. In these two seasons, Raúl won two Ligas and was near the figures of his best years, when he built his legend. Despite the huge pressure of a sector of the press and the constant "Raúl, yes; Raúl no", Luis Aragonés kept betting for the new system and the new generation, leaving Raúl out of the Euro 2008. The rest is history and, even Del Bosque, did not touch what was not broken.

Raúl never criticized the decision in public and Luis Aragonés never closed the door to a possible return and only with the pass of time admit that "there was a point when the national team was too big for Raúl and we had to think in the team and not in a player". The rumors were different though. Luis Aragonés always defended the new model of team around the midfielders, mainly Xavi. The Catalan midfielder and Luis Aragonés designed the team that has given Spain the highest achievements of its history and Raúl did not fit in this new concept. Raúl, always moderate in public, was in the mouths of many people in the tribute on the historical players. These voices suggested that Raúl holds resentment on Luis Aragonés and some players who blocked his presence in the national team in the Euro 2008, his last chance to achieve an international title, the only titles he missed in his infinite curriculum of records.

Raúl and Euro trophy

This resentment made him blind to understand the mechanics of football and his no presence is a historical record that he will probably regret in some years, when the perspective of time and the calm of the retirement allow him to realize that the changes made by Luis Aragonés in the national team were necessary, logic and ended up giving Spain the so wished titles... despite he was the main victim of it. The Gran Capitán failed to understand that he should have been there, with his teammates Zubizarreta, Casillas and Xavi, because his weight in the history of the Spanish team is huge, because it is impossible to understand the modern history of the team without him, because these titles do not hide his legendary status. In one way or another, Raúl also got his commemorative cap and the place in history he still is unable to understand.

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