The race was won, but not Madrid hearts
Real’s greatest scorer can’t live with Raul and Di Stefano
Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Raul, Iker Casillas, Fernando Hierro, Sergio Ramos, Michel – some of the greatest to wear the famous white of Real Madrid so well.
It’s a dazzling array of names, some of the best to ever play the game let alone for the club.
Cristiano Ronaldo sits above them all as Los Blancos greatest ever goalscorer. But he is perhaps unlikely to ever surpass Raul or Di Stefano as the club’s best ever.
The Portuguese powerhouse brought the curtain down on a quite sublime nine-year stay on the Santiago Bernabeu stage on Tuesday as he turned his attention to Turin.
Debate has long raged among Madridistas as to who is Madrid’s greatest player. In terms of goals, Ronaldo stands alone, with 450 mercilessly plundered since he was plucked from the Premier League in 2009. Yet, some say a lack of emotional bond between the Bernabeu faithful and their white knight leaves an invisible yet unbridgeable gap separating fan and phenom.
Ronaldo leaves Spain as Real’s greatest ever goalscorer. A club that has had its fair share of prolific ones. Of the six players to score more than 200 goals, Ronaldo’s record is whiter than white.
His 450 strikes in just 438 games means he scored at a rate of 1.02 per game. Only Hungarian heavyweight Puskas comes close with his 242 in 262 games, scored at a seismic rate of 0.92. Di Stefano’s 307 in 396 outings (0.77), Hugo Sanchez’s 208 in 282 (0.73), Santillana’s 289 in 645 (0.44), even Bernabeu boy wonder Raul’s 323 in 741 (0.43), pale in significance.
The goals scored by the other five totals 1,369. Ronaldo’s tally is 33 per cent of that. He finishes with 127 more than Raul (323), having played 303 less games. And only Puskas spent less time at the club.
Ronaldo surpassed Raul nearly three years ago. He went on to ripple the net another 126 times to set a record that even at a club more famous than any for establishing and passing milestones, someone will find it impossible to break.
It is his everlasting duel with arch nemesis Lionel Messi though that both sets him apart yet also prevents Madrid fans from truly embracing him. The duo have held a duopoly on the Balon d’Or for the last decade. In the midst of their brilliance and dominance, however, boredom has crept in. After all, is empathy in football not a crucial, the most crucial, element?
There’s no intelligible reason mega rich stars earning stratospheric sums of money and the everyday man outside the stadium should be able to co-exist. Yet, somehow, they are partners in a strange sort of marriage that evokes strong sentiment and suffering in equal measure.
In Ronaldo’s unquenchable thirst for goals and to be the greatest player that ever lived, something has been missing from solidifying the bond between him and Real fans.
Meanwhile, Raul’s emotional attachment with the fans, coupled with the decisive goals scored, launched him into their hearts as well as the record books.
Like Ronaldo he came from humble beginnings. Shy and an introvert at heart – the very antithesis of Ronaldo – led to an incredibly strong emotional link with supporters.
The fact he was Spanish and a local boy meant even more to them and his nicknames say everything about his standing at the Bernabeu. ‘Mister Raul Madrid’, ‘El Capitan’.
His emergence during the 1994/95 season was symbolic in many ways. Not only was he the youngest player to make his senior debut – aged 17 years and 124 days – but replacing Emilio Butragueno signaled a passing of the torch from one legend to someone destined to follow. Nine goals were registered in 28 appearances to help Madrid lift the title in his first season. It broke Barcelona’s four-year monopoly on the domestic championship.
He scored in the Champions League finals of 2000 and 2002, becoming the first player to net in two, as Real returned to prominence both at home and on the continent.
He is seen by many as Madrid’s second son, only to Di Stefano, who is held in such regard because he was the first true Madrid magician. He was by no means the last, but he was that true breakout star.
He laid the foundations for the behemoth of a club they have become today.
Di Stefano’s legendary contributions to Madrid’s early successes included seven European Cup final goals across five consecutive finals as Los Blancos whitewashed the inaugural years of the competition, hoisting the first five trophies from 1956-60.
Like Ronaldo he was something of an outsider, an Argentine. But after winning six caps for La Albiceleste in 1947, the Buenos Airesborn forward switched allegiance to Spain in 1956 – three years after joining Real – and would go on to rifle in 23 goals for La Roja in 31 caps, including a hat-trick on debut.
Heavy heart: Cristiano Ronaldo plundered goals for Madrid, but will not go down as the greatest.