Times are a-changing for Raúl

These days, Guti isn’t the only Real Madrid player nervously looking over his shoulder in anticipation of someone giving him a good going-over. His team captain is, too – but it won’t be coming from a bonkers boxer.

In the wonderful world of Spanish football, there is an unwritten rule that people have to be pro- or anti-Raúl. It’s the same principle as people either loving ham or being considered clinically insane and told to go and live in Portugal as a punishment.

Football fans in Spain either have an everlasting love of the name-pointing poacher or possess an often irrational hatred for him. And nothing, but nothing will ever change their views.

The pragmatic, law-abiding, tax-paying La Liga Loca floats aimlessly on this particular breeze like Peter Luccin on a football pitch.

"After all I've done..."

On the plus side, Raúl is still the top scorer in the Champions League and is just 12 goals away from being the greatest striker in Spanish league history. OK, Raúl may have only scored one measly goal in open play this season – and that against an Austrian village side – and his form may well be described as "bloody awful", but the argument goes that he isn’t going to find his mojo sitting on the bench next to Javier Saviola. After all, form is temporary, class is permanent.

This argument has held firm for years now. But something appears to be shifting in the sands for Raúl and Real Madrid. In previous seasons, even if the striker’s on-pitch performances consisted of him reading Don Quixote whilst squatting on a beanbag – and for all the good he has been recently, he might has well have been – Raúl could always guarantee a pat on the back from Marca and AS with a comment that he "tried hard". But it seems that stream of goodwill is beginning to dry up.

On Sunday, AS’s headline read “Raúl and 10 others” in an attempt to perk up the poorly-performing poacher. But after yet another rotten display – this time, against Racing – the Madridistas appear to be giving up the goalscorer’s ghost.

On Monday, Marca lead with the headline that “Pipita, the future is yours” – with the cowardly claim that Gonzalo Higuaín (for it is he) should be playing alongside the captain – but inside, the paper was considerably more daring by marking Raul's Racing perfromance with a giant red arrow pointing downwards.

Changing of the (old) guard: Higuain comes on for Raul

AS was equally critical and had a bit of a pop at Bernd Schuster’s continuing tendency to bottle the big Raúl decision by changing the team’s formation – usually sticking Higuaín on the wing and dropping the less vocal Arjen Robben or Rafael van der Vaart.

The paper criticised the German manager’s comment that his captain always had a "bonus" over others, no matter how poorly he happened to be playing. This is dangerous, warned Monday’s editorial, as Schuster is “separating him from the group, making him different to players who deserve to be be playing as much as him”.

Normal service appears to have resumed in Tuesday’s Marca, however, with ever-reliable Raúl-rouser Roberto Gómez, giving him his support – for what it's worth.

“Through the lack of imagination, journalistic class or lack of topics, Raúl is always a constant theme,” complains Gómez. subsequently somewhat spearing his opening argument by dedicating his entire column to the goal-missing maestro. “Someone who has defended the shirt of his club and country with pride cannot always be the constant subject of debate”.

But what about someone who reportedly vetoes signings, alienates team-mates he doesn’t take a shine to and celebrates the simplest of tap-ins by pointing at his own name?

If Raúl is no longer able to hit the target, it seems only fair that he continues to be one.

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