Ronaldo a Real Madrid record-breaker, but Raul still reigns supreme
On Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo added another remarkable milestone to his growing tally of records. With a goal against Levante, the Portuguese striker overtook Real Madrid legend Raul at the top of the club's all-time scoring list with 324 goals.
If the number of goals is impressive, the period of time it took Ronaldo to score them should make any football fan giddy. He needed only 753 matches to score his first 500 goals for club and country, while he managed to draw level with Raul in just 310 at Madrid -- a telling number that only starts to describe the sheer dimension of Ronaldo's feat when compared to his peers.
REAL MADRID TOP SCORERS
Cristiano Ronaldo - 324 goals in 310 games
Raul - 323 in 741 games
Alfredo Di Stefano - 308 in 396 games
Carlos Santillana - 290 in 645 games
Ferenc Puskas - 242 in 262 games
Hugo Sanchez - 208 in 283 games
The comparison between Raul and Ronaldo is unavoidable, as the two icons have quite a few things in common. Both came from humble backgrounds and achieved their status in world football through sheer discipline.
Many Sporting Lisbon supporters will tell you stories of a teen Ronaldo getting up to train at 6 a.m. with weights on his ankles to increase the speed of his dribbles. All of his coaches have praised his work ethic, while those who had the chance to train with Raul couldn't help notice how the biggest star on the team was the one staying after each training session to improve his shot accuracy. They are players who hate days off.
Both have been smart enough to adapt to their physical evolution as seasons pass by -- a key trait to break records. Ronaldo modified his youthful, exuberant football at Manchester United to become a pure finisher, while Raul learned how to play between the lines and behind a centre-forward after enjoying his peak closer to the opposition goal.
The Portuguese is by far the more complete player. A natural scorer, he knows how to leverage his physical talent and complements that with unbeatable shooting skill. Raul managed to reach his impressive tally by coupling durability -- 15 seasons and 741 matches with Madrid -- with an uncanny ability to read the game and position himself in the right place at the right moment. This combination superseded his obvious deficiencies as a striker and his evident physical decline after his 10th season in the top flight.
It's also fair to say that Ronaldo and Raul represent different eras in Real Madrid history ancd evoke dissimilar assoiations among supporters. Raul made his dramatic appearance in the final years of the pre-Galactico era, a youngster full of raw talent cutting corners to reach the first team from the ranks of the cantera (youth teams).
Ronaldo arrived to the tune of £80 million, already a global football star who followed in the footsteps of Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham. One represented the heritage of the Quinta del Buitre -- Real Madrid's iconic team of the late '80s, with plenty of home-grown players -- the other brings to mind the Real Madrid of the big signings, the global brand, the multinational.
CRISTIANO RONALDO'S GOALS
Real Madrid - 324 goals in 310 games
Man United - 118 in 292 games
Sporting - 5 in 31 games
Portugal - 55 in 122 games
TOTAL: 502 goals in 756 games
An introvert at heart, Raul managed to create an incredibly strong emotional link with Real Madrid supporters. They not only celebrated his goals and titles but could also relate to a player who looked endearingly human at several memorable instances of his career.
For example, most will remember his muted commemoration in San Mames when Real Madrid thrashed Athletic Bilbao 5-0 back in 1996. Two days earlier, Jorge Valdano had been fired as Madrid coach, and the 19-year-old Raul, almost in tears, decided to show his respect to the man who had promoted him to the first team when he was only 17.
This earned him the approval of the Bilbao fans themselves, who always had a soft spot for the Madridista and even gave him a moving round of applause when he visited San Mames for the last time with Schalke in 2012.
Raul's "shut up" celebration at the Camp Nou after he equalised also occupies a pre-eminent place in the Madridistas' collective memory. Barcelona fans had been abusing him during the match, and the striker decided to answer the chants with a trademark goal.
His emotional attachment with the Madrid fans and the decisive goals he scored generated what is arguably one of Real Madrid's biggest legends, second only to Alfredo Di Stefano.
Ronaldo has not yet been able to develop that same emotional connection with the Bernabeu faithful. Supporters obviously value the fact that he carries the team on his shoulders for most of the season and celebrate his scoring accomplishments.
But in a curious paradox, his obsession with his numbers -- the single most important factor that makes him such a successful scoring machine -- somehow damages his reputation among local fans and puts him one level below the Madridistas' most beloved icons.
It's hard to blame the Portuguese for that, as by all means he does his job on the pitch as well as anyone could imagine and has even improved his game after a few years playing next to Karim Benzema.
But the fact is that, goal records aside, there's still something missing between Ronaldo and the Bernabeu. If we ignore the usual rumours, the Portuguese star does have a few seasons ahead to develop that bond.
In order to do so, he'll have to bring something other than his impressive goal tally to the table.
Eduardo Alvarez covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @alvarez.