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Monday, May 14, 2012

The legendary number 7 ready for a new challenge

Former Real Madrid legend Raúl Gonzalez was presented to the media by his new club Al Sadd on Sunday in a press conference at the Club's headquarters in Doha.

The 34-year-old Spanish striker signed a 2-year deal with the 2011 Asian Champions on a free transfer, after his contract with German Club Schalke 04 expired. He spent the past two seasons with the Bundesliga club leading them to the cup title in 2010-11 and the Super Cup title at the start of this season.

Before joining Schalke 04, Raúl had a highly successful career with Real Madrid and during his 16 seasons with the Spanish giants he was always considered one of the top players in the world, leading the club to 15 titles that included three UEFA Champions League trophies and six La Liga titles.

And winning titles with Al Sadd is the main aim of the Spanish legend here in Qatar, as he mentioned that during the press conference and later in an interview with Al Jazeera Sport News Channel.

“I know Al Sadd is one of the biggest clubs in Qatar, and I hope my experience will help the team win titles again, and also hope that we will play good football to entertain the fans” the Spanish star said.

He arrived in Doha on Saturday to attend the final of Emir Cup between his new club and Al Gharrafa. The match ended in a penalty shootout defeat for Al Sadd, a result which meant the current Asian champions will not participate in the 2013 AFC Champions League.

“Yesterday it was a disappointing result, I hope we can win a title next season, and celebrate it with the fans, that’s my main aim” he added.

Although Al Sadd announced that they invited the player to the final and he was in Doha only to sign for them, there were strong rumors that Al Rayyan were also interested in signing him, so strong that local newspapers like Al Arab printed it on its front pages on Sunday.

Raúl didn’t deny he had more than one option in Qatar, but he finally decided to join Al Sadd, “something common with the past” the Spanish star said while smiling, referring to the white colors of Al Sadd kits.

He said that his agent received many offers including ones from UAE, but he was only considering two options, either moving to Qatar or staying with Schalke 04 in Germany.

Advice from former Spanish colleagues, who played in Qatar, was also crucial in making his decision. “Guardiola and Hierro told me not to hesitate in accepting Al Sadd’s offer, they told me that it will be a great experience and I would enjoy it” he said.

Former Barcelona coach, Joesp Guardiola played before for Al Ahli, while former Real Madrid captain Fernando Hierro represented Al Rayyan.

“I am happy to be here and my family is happy to be in Qatar, the future looks good for them here, I talked with my wife and children before taking the decision, and we finally decided to be here and share the new experience together” he added.

Raúl visited Doha for the first time in 1995 while playing for the Spanish team that took part in FIFA U-20 World Cup Finals in Qatar. “It was totally different at that times, Qatar has developed very much since 1995 and became a very advanced country in all areas” he said.

“I know the World Cup will be played here after 10 years, I want to use my experience in developing football in Qatar, they are ambitious and they have a top class infrastructure, I have seen the stadiums and Aspire Zone, they have a good football team now, but they can still have a stronger one during the 2022 World Cup” he added.

Speaking about retirement after his two years in Qatar, or even returning to Europe, Raúl said that he is not sure yet about his future, but he hoped that he will play here for many years and retire after that, and also mentioned that becoming a coach is not on his mind yet.

EURO 2012

Raúl denied that he want to be part of the Spanish team in EURO 2012, “my time is over, I am ready of course if they needed me, but I do not think they will, I did not play with the team for years now, and they have very good players in all positions, I will support them with all my heart”.

He also said that the absence of the team captain Carles Puyol due to injury will be felt, describing the FC Barcelona defender as a great leader, but he insisted that Spain’s strength is not in the individual players but instead it’s in the players’ ability to play as a team.

Real Madrid

Leaving Real Madrid was not due to problems with the president Florentino Perez, claimed the Spanish legend “they gave me great farewell in Schalke, I think Real Madrid were going to give me a similar one, but the time was tight, I love real Madrid and the fans love me I know it, I will always be grateful to the club and the fans”.

He also praised the team for winning La Liga title this season “they were a very good team and they deserved the title, especially as they snatched it from Barcelona, a very strong opponent that dominated for years, with Jose Mourinho the team is more competitive and stronger”.

At the end of the interview, Raúl predicted that Real Madrid will win their tenth title in Europe very soon, if they kept on playing like they did this season. He also praised Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain, who might leave the club this summer and said “he did a lot to the team, but sometimes circumstances change, I think he will stay with the team, he was very important this season”.

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