First things first— Raúl is a genius, plain and simple. Every single Wolves fan will agree that both he and Jota were the shining lights last season in a squad where practically every player played out of their skins. In fact, there’s a strong case for either player making the list of the club’s best foreign players. But the thing is, while the Molineaux faithful were always behind him, his career in Europe has only really taken off since joining us.
When the Mexican international arrived, there was little fanfare outside of Wolverhampton. Here was a player who, although a bit of a prodigy in his native Mexico, failed to live up to expectations in his one season at Atletico Madrid. He scored just once in 28 appearances and was eventually put out of his misery with a move to Benfica.
Now, you might think that winning two Primeira Liga titles and a Taca de Portugal cup would suggest that his time at Benfica was a success. Unfortunately for Raúl, the Benfica fans thought otherwise. Their loss was our gain, though—in a very big way.
We’re not going to go into too much detail on our number 9’s superb season or the fact that, at £34 million, he’s a complete bargain. Any Wolves fan worth their salt knows all this already. What we will say, though, is that Raúl’s story is one of dedication to his craft and a never-say-die attitude.
Having been tipped for success from an early age, big things were expected when Raúl finally made his move from Mexico to the European big leagues. His record of 31 goals in 83 appearances for CF America suggested that the £9.45million Atletico paid for him was a good investment. His time in La Liga was an unmitigated disaster, but the club still managed to sell him on for a £10million profit.
A national treasure
His form for the national team, however, never faulted. In 79 appearances, he has scored 21 goals, which is none too shabby for an international player. His greatest success came this summer with a Gold Cup win that saw Raúl score five goals. He was pivotal in the three group wins that saw them through to the quarterfinals. The team’s run continued as Raúl scored in the 1-1 draw with Costa Rica, a match where both teams were tipped to score, but which was ultimately decided by penalty shootout. He then showed nerves of steel to score a penalty in extra time in the semi-final vs. Haiti before they lifted the cup with a 1-0 win over the US.
His ability to retain his place and continue scoring for the national team speaks volumes about his attitude and value. How many strikers with a one-goal season would make it onto the England team? Even Emile Heskey scored more than that in his time at Liverpool.
Raúl’s struggles at Atletico could be the very reason he is the player he is today. He learned to adapt his game and, as a result, improved his goal-scoring record. Yes, there’s the argument that it was easier to score in Portugal, but the progress he made wasn’t due to inferior opposition or any of that ‘big fish, small pond’ nonsense. Raúl’s progress was down to desire.
Although he was under pressure from the Benfica fans, he still could have stayed with them or in the same league and continue to have a successful career. But we get the feeling that he had other ideas and wanted to test himself against the best players in the world. Some would say that the player took a step down by moving to Wolves, but the Premier League is a far more competitive league than the Portuguese Primeira Liga. The opposition is tougher, the game is faster, and there’s very little room for error.
A gamble that paid off
There’s no doubt that in moving to Molineaux, Raúl wagered on his own talents, and we’re happy to say that he made the right bet. It seems that the physical nature of English football suits the player who learned his trade on the streets of Mexico. The faster pace of the Premier League allows him to make the most of his exceptional talents, and his remarkable understanding with Jota has seen both players hit double figures.
The rise of Raúl has been nothing short of incredible. At 28, we have seen the rebirth of a player just as he is coming into his prime. If both he and Jota continue their form, it’s not unreasonable to think that we just might end up with some silverware this season. We’re under no illusions that it will be the Premier League (Man City will take some beating), but a cup and a top-four finish are genuine possibilities for the first time in many Wolves’ fans lifetimes.