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 By Tom Marshall

United States needs idols to become a true soccer nation - Raul

MEXICO CITY -- Spain and Real Madrid legend Raul Gonzalez praised the growth and development of soccer in the United States, but thinks the country needs to produce some true idols to make the final leap as a football nation.

"I believe that soccer in the United States lacks an idol and they should do everything possible to create one," said Raul in conversation with Jorge Valdano at the Soccerex event in Mexico City on Wednesday. "In basketball they had [Michael] Jordan and now [Stephen] Curry, LeBron [James]."

Raul is currently working as U.S. La Liga director, staying on in New York following his stint with New York Cosmos and thinks the expertise of Spanish clubs in terms of producing players can benefit his current country of residence. In exchange, Raul is adamant that La Liga clubs can learn from the business and marketing concepts of MLS institutions.

The former Spain international had a wide-ranging discussion with his former coach Valdano.

"Jorge is like my footballing father," commented Raul, who is behind only Cristiano Ronaldo on Real Madrid's career goal-scoring charts. "He had the bravery to debut me and put me in the first team at 17, when I was a baby, a kid."

Valdano remembers that it was Raul who showed gall as a young player: "The day that he was going to debut in Real Madrid, I took him aside and I said: 'Tomorrow you will start.' And he told me, 'You know what you are doing, if tomorrow you want to win, play me; if not, don't.'"

Valdano highlighted that the key to Raul's career was that mental strength and professionalism.

Raul added he was happy that Atletico Madrid overcame Bayern Munich to set a Madrid derby against Real in the final of the Champions League, but seemed to give the edge to his former side.

"I think that Atletico is much more dangerous over one game, but I believe in that magic and greatness of Real Madrid," he said.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.

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