Raul decision a terrible shame

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Although Raul is targeting one final payday before he is officially put out to stud, it is fair to suggest that the career of the Spanish legend at the highest level will be over at the end of this season.

Raul is out of contract with current employers Schalke at the end of the current campaign and, on Thursday, it was announced that he will leave Gelsenkirchen with the blessing of the club.

The 34-year-old has scored 39 goals in almost two seasons with Schalke and, as a gesture of appreciation, the Bundesliga outfit will retire the club's No.7 shirt in Raul's honour.

It is far from a regular occurrence that two seasons of duty is enough to warrant such the retirement of a shirt number, but it goes to prove how highly regarded Raul has been during his brief spell at the Veltins-Arena.

The next step for the former Real Madrid superstar is to find a team outside of Europe, as he seeks an easier way of life - both on and off the pitch - and, one would also assume, a significant pay increase.

"I have made a decision about my future, and will not stay at Schalke," Raul said at a press conference.

"It has been a really tough decision. I'd like to thank the club, the president and the manager for their patience. This decision is the right one for me.

"My future doesn't lie in Europe. I will get together with my agent to discuss the offers we have received. I will then announce where I will go. It will be a less competitive league.

"My decision is based on several factors. I'm still confident enough to play in a top league, but I can't foresee the future. The key factor is my family.

"In the Bundesliga you don't have much time with your family. My choice of which league to join will reflect my desire to spend more time with my family."

Given that Raul is perhaps the finest player of his generation not to have been awarded the Ballon d'Or, it is a terrible shame he has decided to spend the final days of his career in some, as yet undecided, distant land.

Yet this has frequently been the pattern for high-profile players chasing an easy buck in the twilight of their respective careers, but Raul, above any other, still has a significant amount to offer.

The former Spain international provided an example of the goalscoring ability he still possesses in abundance during Schalke's Europa League quarter-final tie with Atheltic Bilbao; netting three times across two legs.

Not only did Raul grab a classic poacher's goal in the first encounter, but he also found the net with two dreamy strikes from distance, to leave his admirers purring.

Given his decision to move away from European football, Raul's screamer in Bilbao represented his last goal in continental competition, and he leaves for pastures new boasting the record for the most goals ever scored in Europe.

His record stands at 77 goals in 161 games during a career spanning 18 seasons and, although in time he will surely be trumped by Lionel Messi, his European legacy will never be forgotten.

Still possessing unquestionable ability, had Raul decided to remain in Europe after leaving Schalke, he would surely still have the pick of a number of the continent's finest clubs when choosing where to end his career.

Optimists among us would have hoped he would have chosen a move to the Premier League, and he would undoubtedly have proved a fantastic acquisition for any of the country's top clubs, even if only for one season.

Old Trafford may have been a destination for him, after Manchester United had attempted to sign Raul when he left Real Madrid but, in the end, they were trumped in their negotiations by Schalke.

"We do prefer to sign young players as a rule but when you get an opportunity to sign experience like that you've got to have a look at it," revealed Sir Alex Ferguson at the time.

"You can make exceptions for certain players, because experience is so valuable."

Another move for Raul on this occasion would surely not have been out of the equation for United, or perhaps even the likes of Liverpool or Chelsea, but Raul has made his decision.

Raul moves onto the final stage of his career with our most sincere of wishes, but we will continue to harbour resentment that the Premier League was never graced with the goalscoring talents of one of the best the world has ever seen.

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