Raul Gonzalez says he expects former team-mate Iker Casillas to knuckle down and work hard to win his place back in the Real Madrid starting line-up.
Raul played for ten seasons alongside Casillas at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, during which the club won two Champions League trophies and four La Liga titles.
‘San Iker’ took over as club captain after the forward departed in 2010, and was undisputed first choice until being sensationally dropped by former Los Blancos boss Jose Mourinho last season.
New Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti then surprised most pundits by opting to retain Diego Lopez between the posts for Sunday’s La Liga opener against Real Betis.
But Raul, now 36, speaking ahead of his return to the Bernabeu to play in Thursday’s exhibition friendly with his current Qatari side Al-Sadd, believes that Casillas is not the type of guy to react to such adversity by trying to rock the boat.
“[Casillas] looks good, he is a great professional,” Raul said. “He has shown that all the seasons he has played at Madrid, and with the Spain team. He will keep working hard and strongly, to continue helping. Madrid has a new project, everyone is pushing in the same direction. Casillas too. The coach takes the decisions. Casillas will keep moving forward, and will have his chances.”
Raul scored a record 323 goals in a record 741 games for Madrid, before surprisingly moving on to Schalke three summers ago -- reportedly at the wishes of club president Florentino Perez and then incoming coach Mourinho.
The Spanish media have suggested that the relationship between Raul and Perez remains cool, while the player himself admitted that his exit had not been quite as he had expected at the time.
“Three years ago I was not able to say goodbye the way I would have liked,” he said. “I would not change anything at all that has happened in the last three years. At the moment of making the decision I thought my time had ended. Going to a new country made me recover that excitement that I did not have here. I enjoyed my football and felt more liberated. I was only thinking about playing. That was more difficult at Madrid.”
The former Spain international -- who will play 45 minutes for each team on Thursday -- remains a huge hero with the Madrid faithful, with an 80,000-plus crowd expected at the Bernabeu even though the game kicks off at 10:30pm local time.
“Tomorrow will be a special day,” Raul said. “It moves me that the tickets are selling out, that people from all sides are expecting me. Madrid gave me everything, and the Bernabeu and its fans. It will be a day to party, returning to a place I consider my home, to see many friends who are working here and many team-mates.
“It is a bit different and strange. It will be an emotional game. I am coming to play with my current team, a Qatari team which is at a lower level than Madrid, but am excited to put back on the Madrid jersey which I defended for many years.”
The Madrid native did not rule out returning to his former club as coach some day, but suggested that would only happen after he had picked up coaching experience elsewhere.
“To come to Madrid is always in my head, when I believe that I can bring something to the club I would be delighted to return,” he said. “But for that a transition is necessary and an apprenticeship, to know if I am capable of doing something which can help.”