Two Brilliant Strikers Choose Diverging Paths

By Nicholas Spiller

Ten years ago both Ruud van Nistelrooy and Raul Gonzalez were at the top of their game, scoring goals aplenty and ripping through defenses. Both players had grand spells at major European clubs. And both players spent time at Real Madrid, Ruud for a short stint and Raul nearly his whole career.

Now in the twilight of their careers, van Nistelrooy has recently announced his retirement from the sport and Raul Gonzalez has taken to a new club, Al Sadd in Qatar.

Ruud van Nistelrooy

Ruud van Nistelrooy is from Holland and thus began his career in the Dutch leagues. He had his most of his early success with PSV Eindhoven in the Eredivisie, where he averaged 30 goals per season. He quickly caught the eye of Manchester United and agreed to transfer. Although the transfer was delayed for a season due to an injury, Van Nistelrooy eventually moved to England and continued his strong form as a potent striker.

Glory was the occasion for the Dutch striker, as he won numerous trophies in Manchester and was named Player of the Year in 2002. He remained a great talent but was dropped by Sir Alex Ferguson for disciplinary reasons in 2006. Apparently he had told team mate, Christiano Ronaldo to go crying to his daddy during a training fight. Ronaldo’s father had died earlier in the season.

Ruud van Nistelrooy had a few other incidents with players and managers. He temporarily announced his retirement from the Dutch national team in 2007, after a spat with manager, Marco van Basten. Van Nistelrooy was also oddly left on the bench during a 2006 World Cup match that saw Holland eliminated by Portugal. In a qualifying match for the tournament, there was also this incident:

However, it wasn’t all bad. Van Nistelrooy was transferred to Real Madrid in 2006, where he had more success. He led the league in scoring during his first year as Madrid won La Liga. Injuries began to slow the Dutchman down and he signed for Hamburg in January, 2011.
There he stayed until last summer when he joined Malaga back in Spain, whose new Qatari owners were looking to bring big names to the club. He played only a single year there before retiring. Ruud van Nistelrooy will be remembered for his great knack of poaching goals in the 6 yard box and his vibrant attitude. This goal is for me his greatest:

Raul Gonzalez

Raul Gonzalez made nearly his entire career at Real Madrid. Starting with the reserves sides in 1994, Raul showed a great goal scoring ability and was elevated to the first team, where he resided until 2010. During that time, the Spaniard scored a record 323 goals for the club. He also won six La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues.

Slightly more mild mannered than Van Nistelrooy, Raul was praised for never once receiving a red card during his professional career. Age eventually caught up with him though, and his role diminished in the “new look” Madrid under Jose Mourinho. Raul moved on to Shalke 04 in the German Bundesliga and was able to earn more playing time. His final touch of the ball at Madrid was rightly scoring a goal, while injured, to push Madrid to a win:

Raul featured often for the Spanish national team throughout his career.  He even held the goal scoring record briefly with 44 goals.  He was unfortunate to miss out on Spain’s recent successes as he lost his place to Fernando Torres and David Villa following the 2006 World Cup.  Villa has gone on to surpass Raul’s goal scoring record, and Spain has since won EURO 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. A fact that must weigh on Raul to an extent, despite his fantastic career.

Raul scored 28 goals during his two year spell at German side Shalke 04 and scored his scored his 400th career goal in a 4-0 home win over Wolfsburg.

Raul will go down in history as one of the smoothest goal scorers of all time. He’s someone who knows the game inside and out, and always makes the perfectly timed run to score that crucial goal. While not the fastest or the strongest of players, his deft touches fooled defenders and made it look like he was playing the game a step ahead of everyone else. Just take a look at some of his goals for Real Madrid.

However, he recently turned heads when he announced that he was joining Qatari side, Al Sadd. Similar to foreign stars moving to the MLS, the transfer will be a great way to expand soccer to new countries and fans. Although this move to Qatar will greatly strengthen Raul’s pocketbook much more than a move to the MLS would.

And so, European soccer now says farewell to two of the finest strikers of the new Millennium. As Ruud van Nistelrooy and Raul Gonzalez are set to depart the big stage, new stars have already began to emerge, and fans will look back fondly at the glorious careers of these two strikers.

Nicholas Spiller is a freelance soccer writer and can be reached at: