Recognition finally for Espanyol captain Raul Tamudo

Neither possess extraordinary pace, strength, nor height. Both are introverted captains at their clubs, and play up front. But while one sparked a national debate for his call up to the national team, the other slipped in through the back door to save Spain a week ago. Both are called Raul, but as one banner at Montjuic last weekend said: 'There's only one Raul: Tamudo'.

Espanyol took on Real Madrid in Barcelona after a week of the usual raucous debate in Spain - namely, in the absence of David Villa, and the subsequent injury to Fernando Torres, whether Real Madrid's Raul should be called up by Luis Aragones. On hearing the news that David Villa sprained his ankle, however, Bernd Schuster knew full well his captain wouldn't be the chosen one. "The question isn't whether Raul should play for the national team, we all know he is a quality player. But the player who will replace Villa will be someone whose name begins with T. I'll bet a dinner on it."

Nobody took up the bet, because they knew they were on to a loser. Tamudo duly received the call from the Spanish federation, starting off a whirlwind week for the forward. He scored the first, set up the second and played a hand in the third of Spain's 3-1 win over Denmark, all but ensuring the country's qualification to next summer Euro tournament in Austria and Switzerland. His goal, incidentally, was his fifth with the Spain national side and all of them have been headers.

"It has been a wonderful two weeks for me," beamed the striker after the win over Real Madrid last weekend. Days after returning from international duty he celebrated his 30th birthday, and two days after that he helped his side beat Real Madrid with a delightful chip over Casillas. 'It was a work of art' declared the Catalan press. "The second I received the ball I knew what I was going to do with it. It wasn't easy, Casillas was off his line but not too much," explained the striker after the game. "It is one of the best goals I have ever scored," he told reporters.

It was his 116th goal for Espanyol, a feat in itself. Last season he levelled, and then overtook, Rafa Maranon's goal scoring record for the club with a brace against Barcelona. As an added bonus, in doing so he stole the league title from city rivals Barcelona, handing La Liga crown to Real Madrid.

Tamudo is well known for scoring important goals for Espanyol. Already this season his three goals have given the side nine points. Against Real Madrid his goal proved to be the difference between Espanyol and Real Madrid as the Pericos ran out 2-1 winners. But Tamudo also scored the third in the 3-2 win over Sevilla, and grabbed the only goal of the game in the away win over Deportivo.

So important is the striker to the club, that Espanyol fans have started an on-line petition to canonize the forward as 'Saint Raul of the Impossible Goals'. Tamudo scores vital goals for the Pericos. In 2004 he scored against Murcia on the last day of the season in the 2-0 win, saving the club from relegation. He also played a key role in the club's Copa del Rey successes in 2000 and 2006, as well reaching the UEFA cup final earlier this year.

He gave a warning of what to expect of him in his league debut for Espanyol in 1997. Coming on in the last half hour away to Hercules he scored the winner one minute from time, taking the side out of the relegation zone and instantly winning him over to the fans. Tamudo had trials at Barcelona with his brother Paco, but while Tamudo senior would play lower division football for the rest of his career, Espanyol signed the young Raul for the princely sum of six footballs and a friendly.

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In 2000 a move to Rangers fell through as the Scottish club reported that he failed a medical test. Espanyol fans were grateful he stayed, a feeling they repeated last summer. Villarreal saw Tamudo as the perfect replacement for Diego Forlan, but the deal never went through. "I always said that I want to retire here," Tamudo said at the time.

His faith in the club seems to have paid off. While last season it was the trio of Tamudo, Luis Garcia and Ivan de la Pena who guided the team to the UEFA Cup final and a comfortable mid-table finish, this year the likes of left-winger Riera, midfielder Lola and centre backs Torrejon and Jarque have all improved. Espanyol's win over Real Madrid was their fourth consecutive win and the Catalan club are now fifth in La Liga with their sights on qualification for European football next year.

"We have beaten three teams who are in the Champions League - Sevilla, Valencia and Real Madrid," said coach Ernesto Valverde last Saturday. With the stylish football and results that Valverde is achieving with the club, the coach is already being touted as a candidate to replace Frank Rijkaard in the Camp Nou dugout.

While the team and coach are receiving deserved plaudits for their early season form, however, nobody doubts who the real star is.

"If he was called Tamudinho that goal would be shown all around the world for days," said Espanyol president Daniel Sanchez Llibre after the win over Real Madrid. It was a similar complaint to the goal Tamudo scored against Sevilla last season, when he controlled a high ball first time with a Cryuff turn and finished in style (once again, it was the winner).

"People aren't talking about it so much because it's only Tamudo, and its only Espanyol," said Luis Garcia at the time.

Tamudo undoubtedly deserves more recognition for his talent than his nine caps for Spain show. But with five goals in those games, and an uncanny talent for scoring vital goals, don't be surprised to see Raul leading the line for Spain at Euro 2008.

But then it won't be the Real Madrid Raul, but rather, as one banner at Montjuic last Saturday put it, 'Tamudo - The Real Raul'.

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