Yesterday, at approximately 8 a.m. Easter Standard Time, a part of my life ended–a part of my life that I cherish, and have cherished, for the last 16 years. Raúl Gonzalez Blanco, el gran capitán, the man we “merengues” affectionately call “Raúl Madrid,” ended his tenure with the Real Madrid Club de Fútbol. We decided not to renew his contract, and allowed the German club Shalke 04, a high-ish level Bundesliga club, snatch up our all-time leading goalscorer. As he sadly announced the end of his Madrid career, tears rolled down the great Captain’s eyes. And not to sound cliché–I’m sure there’ll be a lot of that in the next couple of paragraphs–a part of me, and of all Madrid fans, shed a tear for our hero.
I won’t let this turn into some stupid reminiscence on his great career; the greatest complement I can pay the man is what he said at his press conference: “It doesn’t matter who wears [his beloved] number 7 in the future. All that matters is the crest, the emblem on the front of the jersey.” He lived, breathed, and died for his dearly loved club–for sixteen years he graced the soccer cathedral in Madrid. He was, and will remain the great example for every player who has played, is playing and will play for Real Madrid. Gracias, mi capitán.
Thinking of Raúls departure–unceremoniously, at the end of his career, as he began to wind down–reminds me of another impending, and almost as important, free-agent-to-be, the Captain, Derek Jeter. I’ve been a Yankee fan for almost as long as I’ve been a Madrid fan–but for some reason I’d be more surprised if Derek left than I am at Raúl leaving. But their career arcs offer an interesting parallel: Raúl debuted in 1995, in place of the injured Emilio Butragueño (another legend); Jeet was first called up in ’95, but his first full major league season was 1996. Both players enjoyed immense success early in their careers, with Raúl capturing Spanish Liga titles and Champions league titles almost every year until 2004. Same with Jeet, except the Yankees hadn’t won since 2000 (they’d been runners-up in ’01 and ’03). Then they both reclaimed glory around the same time–Raúl in 2007, and 2008; Jeet in 2009. And they’re both at the end of their contracts, with ailing limbs, capable of helping their teams, but not like they used to. Jeet had a career year in ’09, but is slumping in ’10; Raúl had fantastic years in ’06-07 and ’07-08, but has been on the decline since then.
So could Hank and Hal take a leaf from the Florentino Pérez book of Galáctico marketing, and turn away the face of their franchise (who, I admit, appears to be balding…)? Who the hell knows. But what is certain, is that as time marches on, so do Derek Jeter’s knees, feet, arms, back, legs… And one day, perhaps not too far from now, a 20-something year old me will write another column, “Thanks, Captain…”