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Off-the-radar: Raúl Tamudo

Sarthak Kumar tells the story of Raúl Tamudo, a legend who Espanyol fans call the "only" Raúl.

Bagu Blanco/Getty Images

On 12th September, 2015, Raúl Tamudo – an Espanyol legend – took to the grass of the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat once again, the magnitude of the act quite evident on his shoulders.

After performing the honorary kick-off in his jeans, he left the Cornellá stadium looking as humble as when he had stepped on that grass for the first time in 1997.

We look back at the moments that defined his career, especially two end-of-season goals he scored that changed the fate of many La Liga clubs – for better or for worse.

Scene 1: 27th May, 2000

It could not have been more different. Espanyol were facing Atlético Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey, and their runs to the final couldn’t have been more different. Espanyol had beaten Celta Vigo and Real Madrid; Atlético Madrid had beaten Rayo on away goals in the quarters and Barcelona forfeited the semifinals.

At the end of a crazy league season, where Atlético Madrid were relegated, the notion was that the Copa del Rey would be their consolation.

Boy, were they wrong.

Goalkeeper Toni Jiménez, who was in his first season at Atlético Madrid after having won the 1998 Zamora with (ironically) Espanyol, served as backup to José Francisco Molina. He was having a treacherous season, and only played cup games. And he was about to have a moment that would haunt him for ever.

The ball was in his hands. He was about to throw it in the air to kick it. And he did.

But Tamudo’s head beat him to the ball, and he scored into the open net. Tamudo had made his former teammate look silly, and in just the second minute of the game, Espanyol had quite literally snatched a goal.

And any last hope in Atlético Madrid’s season.

Funnily enough, he would also score in the second minute against Zaragoza in the 2006 Copa del Rey final, against César Sánchez, a Champions League winning keeper.

Scene 2: 9th June, 2007. 9:00pm

Real Madrid and Barcelona, both on top of the table, both with the same number of points but the Catalans are behind on head-to-head.

Real Madrid make the trip to La Romareda to face Real Zaragoza while Barcelona face city rivals Espanyol on home turf. Two games left in the season and both teams know victory was essential.

Over the next 90 minutes, the tables turned numerous times, so much so that even Sevilla were on top of the table for a few minutes. And so the two matches kicked off in perfect unison.

29th minute – Raúl Tamudo scores – a brilliant top-right-corner finish from inside the box, beating Víctor Valdés.

32th – Diego Milito scores a penalty after Pablo Aimar is fouled in the box.

43th – Messi scores this goal.

57th – Ruud van Nistelrooy powers in a header to level the scores. Seconds later at the Camp Nou Messi scores – again – a right-footed shot into the left bottom corner.

64th – Diego Milito scores again, this time drilling a low shot under Casillas

89th – Ruud Van Nistelrooy scores again, an inch out from the goal line.

At this point, Real Madrid are on 73 points and Barcelona on 75.

It looked like the league was sealed, for the final fixtures were easy – Madrid vs Mallorca and Barcelona vs Nastic.

It was.

And then it wasn’t.

Former Barcelona player Francisco Rufete, then playing for Espanyol, played a sumptuous low through ball past the Barcelona defense and the only striker available waited for Valdés to come to him. A long wait, but a true number nine goal. No complications, no extravagance. A simple, effective, precise finish.

The goal to end Barcelona’s La Liga hopes.

This was the year that Barcelona lost the UEFA Super Cup to Sevilla, the FIFA Club World Cup to Internacional of Porto Alegre, Brazil, were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League at the Round of 16 stage, and were dumped out of the Copa del Rey after a shameful 4–0 loss to Getafe in the semi finals.

Just one striker, scoring one dull, boring goal, to end one club’s hopes for one annual championship.

Scene 3: 13th May, 2012. 7:00pm

The league table reads 15th Granada (42 points), 16th Villarreal (41), 17th Rayo Vallecano (40), 18th Zaragoza (40).

As Villarreal entertain Atletico Madrid at El Madrigal and Zaragoza visit Getafe, Rayo Vallecano play Granada at the Vallekas, arguably the crunch game; both know that most probably, the loser will go down to play in La Segunda.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Rayo Vallecano were in eighth place after match day 27, and were two points off a Europa League place. Four points off a Champions League place.

But a poor record of three points – a solitary, albeit impressive, 6-0 win over Osasuna – from nine games, left them relegation candidates and needing a win. Only a win could save them.

On the polar opposite side were Zaragoza, who had given up mid-season, but an impressive run of six wins and a draw in nine had helped them remain in 18th, needing a win.

Granada had been in poor form all along – five points in their last six games hadn’t helped either. And Villarreal, playing in the Champions League, were in poor form too, but know a draw would be enough.

All that is about to change.

Zaragoza win 2–0 against Getafe, who were reduced to ten men, then to nine. And then to eight. Zaragoza were safe. Miraculously.

And till the 87th minute, Rayo Vallecano were relegated.

Except that three goals, in three stadiums, scored in four minutes, would leave a shocking surprise.

In the 88th minute, Falcao scores off a corner. 15th Granada (43), 16th Zaragoza (43), 17th Villarreal (41), 18th Rayo Vallecano (41). Level on points, but on head-to-head Villarreal were safe, and Rayo were relegated.

Seconds later, at the Vallekas, David Cobeño, the goalkeeper and captain of Rayo, is sent up for a corner. They have nothing to lose, but when the corner is cleared everyone starts to run. The minute the ball is loose, everyone is too. Some run backwards, some forward.

The ball somehow reaches the Granada box, where five Rayo players are standing. A shot is taken, saved. A shot by Michu hits the crossbar and rebounds. And there, standing near the goal line, a Spanish 5’10" striker tries his luck in an empty goal from a yard out. A header, a goal.

A goal to relegate a Champions League team with zero debt, to save the aspirations of a club in administration. Actually, two - Granada celebrate too, a while later, once they hear that Villarreal were beaten. The game that was to relegate at least one team, finished with both of them safe.

One goal.

Scene 4: 5th September, 2015

A 37-year-old Spanish professional football player retires from football. He retires after seeing Sabadell relegated to the Segunda B and being able to do nothing about it – a knee injury sidelined him for most of this season.

He ends up being the highest scoring Catalan and the highest scoring Espanyol player. He is a UEFA Cup finalist, losing to Sevilla on penalties; he scored five times for Spain in 13 appearances – all of them headers. He helped Spain qualify for the UEFA Euro 2008 with a crucial strike in Denmark. He is an Olympic Silver medalist, having helped Spain reach the final with a goal against USA.

But he was already a legend – from the day he scored that goal to deny a Champions League winning team the league title. He scored the Tamudazo. And then he saved Rayo Vallecano.

And yet - things could’ve gone so much differently. Espanyol fans may not have been going "There’s only one Raúl: Tamudo". In 2000, Dick Advocaat’s Rangers met the release clause in his contract and Espanyol were forcing him out because they were cash-strapped, but the move fell through when Dr Gert Jan Goudswaard advised against it.

There is now an Espanyol fan club named 'Doctor Gert, Diga 23', 23 being in reference to Tamudo’s shirt number, in honour of the doctor who unknowingly became part of making of the legend that is Tamudo.

I wrote a post on Raúl Tamudo way back in September 2015 (a few months after he had retired). It was my first ever article and I am still very proud of it. (Read it here). However, it was slightly incomplete - there were more aspects of his career that could have been detailed, and he has given interviews since which are very interesting and worth documenting. So I rewrote it and this article is reproduced from a series on the faces of Spanish football. You can read it here.

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