Get to know soccer legend Raúl González Blanco. Raúl grew up in Spain and is one of the greatest Spanish soccer players of all time. He is the second-leading all-time goal scorer for professional team Real Madrid and has three World Cup appearances. Raúl, currently LaLiga’s country manager for the United States, will be at the Big Swim Big Kick on May 7 to share his experience in the sport and play soccer with young athletes. We caught up with Raúl and learned about his secret to goal scoring, how his passion for soccer began, and some of his most memorable moments on the field.
Q: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Big Swim Big Kick?
A: I’m really looking forward to playing soccer and spending time with the kids.
Q: Why do you think it’s important for kids to participate in sports?
A: Sports teach values like teamwork, solidarity, effort, and sportsmanship. It’s important to learn how to be a good winner and a good loser.
Q: How did you get involved in soccer and at what age did you start to play?
A: I think I played soccer before I could even walk. I always had a ball at my feet in the park or at school. My first team was a small team the kids formed in my neighborhood. We would play a game every weekend. I always loved it.
Q: When did you start to think about playing professionally?
A: My dream was to be a professional player. I moved through the youth program in Spain, and when I was 15 I moved to Real Madrid’s youth academy, a professional development team. When I was 17 I got the call to play in my first professional game with Real Madrid. At the time, I was the youngest player in the team’s history to be called up. I enjoyed the moment, and it was amazing.
Q: What challenges did you face during your soccer career?
A: My life changed after I played my first professional game. There was more pressure to perform, more media, and it was difficult. My family, friends, and teammates kept me focused and helped me through it. I also had a setback in 2005 with a knee injury. You have to be strong mentally and work hard to come back and play at the same level.
On the field, every game is a challenge in its own way. I was always fighting until the last second or last minute, no matter the score. I believed it was always possible to win.
Q: What is your favorite soccer memory?
A: I will always remember my first professional game. It was my dream coming true, and it meant everything to me. I scored my first goal in my second game. The cheers and excitement from the fans are something I will never forget.
Q: What is your favorite memory from playing in the World Cup?
A: I played in my first (of three) World Cup in France in 1998. It was amazing to represent my country and to play with the best in the world. We did not advance past the group stage, but it was still an incredible experience.
Q: You are one of the most legendary strikers. What is your secret to scoring goals?
A: I always had good intuition. You have to be focused during the game and quick to react when a mistake is made by the opposing team. When your teammates give you a good ball, you have to capitalize and find the net. I spent a lot of time working on finishing. I wanted to do it for the team.
Q: What advice would you give to kids who want to excel in the sport?
A: You have to have passion and love the game. Learn from your teammates and other cultures. If you are determined and committed, you will succeed. Enjoy it.
Q: What are you up to today, and what’s next for Raul?
A: I retired from playing competitively in 2015. I live in New York City with my family, and I am working for LaLiga, the Spanish professional league.
Favorite color: Red
Favorite food: Arroz a la Cubana (a Spanish dish with rice and tomato sauce, often topped with a fried egg)
One thing you could not live without: My family
The Big Swim Big Kick is a free swim and soccer event for kids ages 6 to 10. Register today.