Raúl González said the "time had come" as the Real Madrid CF stalwart announced his decision to leave the Santiago Bernabéu, with his next move set to take him out of Spanish football.
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Real Madrid CF's talismanic forward Raúl González has made an emotional farewell to the club he joined 18 years ago, after opening a specially-called news conference in the Spanish capital with the words: "The time has come."
So long a reference point for the nine-times European Champion Clubs' Cup winners, the 33-year-old leaves Real Madrid having scored 323 goals in 741 senior appearances – both club records. "I had the feeling this needed to end now, after so many years wearing the shirt of the best club in the world," he said. "There are young players arriving and I felt it was my last chance to experience playing abroad. I'm hungry to keep going, to keep competing."
Raúl moved to the Merengues from cross-town rivals Club Atlético de Madrid in 1992 and, having risen quickly through the ranks, made his debut in a Liga defeat by Real Zaragoza on 29 October 1994. "I remember the day before that game as one of the happiest moments of my life," the former Spanish international said. "I came home and told my parents I was going to play for the first team. My father was so stunned he couldn't finish his meal."
A six-times Liga winner, Raúl also enjoyed immense success in the UEFA Champions League – collecting three winners' medals in 1998, 2000 and 2002 while becoming the competition's 66-goal leading marksman from a record 130 games. He scored in two UEFA Champions League finals – the 2-1 victory over Bayer 04 Leverkusen in 2002 and the 3-0 defeat of Valencia CF in 2000 – an achievement matched only by FC Internazionale Milano's Samuel Eto'o.
The attacker also holds the record for most goals in UEFA club competition, currently 68, a statistic shared with Filippo Inzaghi of AC Milan. The former No7 also lifted the UEFA Super Cup and two European/South American Cups during 16 first-team campaigns, and top-scored in the Liga on two occasions.
Curiously, Raúl finished his Madrid career as he had started it, in a Liga outing against Zaragoza; this time he signed off on a winning note with a goal in a 2-1 away victory on 24 April. With his future destination still undecided, the forward made it clear he would be seeking a move away from Spain.
"I want to know what football is like in another culture before returning home again," he said. "I feel sad today because I have spent so many years here. I've given everything while wearing this shirt. My children are also sad because they are Madrid supporters, but now I'm beginning a new stage in my career."