Brett Favre is going through his annual “Will I? Won’t I?” retire charade. Frankly, it’s a joke and I’ve given up trying to figure out what he’s getting out of this media circus The actual impetus for this article, though, was not Favre, but last week’s dual moves of Real Madrid legends Guti and Raul to Beşiktaş and Schalke 04 respectively.
Both players were incredibly successful with Real. They both won the Champions Leagues three times, La Liga multiple times (Guti 5, Raul 6), Copa del Rey multiple times and the Intercontinental Cup (Winner of the European Cup versus the winner of the Copa Libertadores).
They both played over 116 games combined for their national team (Raul with the bulk of the appearances), though both were dropped from the Spanish squad before the team’s recent success.
Individually, Raul has accomplished more than most teams. He is Real’s and Spain’s leading scorer (though Villa is closing in on his national record). He owns records in appearances for club, numerous nominations for World and European player of the year (finishing second and third in 2001). He won the Pichichi twice as well as countless other individual awards.
Both are 33-years-old and in the twilight of their careers. So why not hang up their boots?
It’s not like they’re moving onto bigger clubs, nor will playing at these clubs add to their illustrious club careers. With no disrespect to Beşiktaş and Schalke 04, both whom are big clubs in their countries, but they are not Real Madrid.
When I saw the derby match between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid in April, both players came on midway through the second half. Obviously a clear sign that they were no longer the focal points of the club they had spent their entire footballing careers with, it would have seemed that this summer would have been a perfect time to retire.
Within 24 hours, both had signed new contracts with new clubs.
Is it about the money? This I refuse to believe. They both played their careers at one of the wealthiest clubs in the world, and their good looks ensured that they weren’t short on individual sponsorships.
So maybe it’s for the love of the game…but then what of one’s legacy?
Very few of the best athletes retire on top of their game. They almost always believe they still have what it takes to perform at the highest level. A lot of those that do retire get restless and un-retire with varying degrees of failure and success. Michael Jordan being a prime example of a failed attempt as he un-retired for a second time to play with the Wizards. His first foray from retirement led to 3 more championships with the Bulls.
Both Joe Montana and Jerry Rice had mediocre seasons after leaving the 49ers. While still considered some of the best at their positions, it was a little sad to see them not at their greatest toward the end of their careers. By the same regard, even though he had been at the twilight of his career, Larry Bird retired after winning Olympic Gold. Pete Sampras, too, retired at the top, after winning his 5th US Open and at the time a record 14th Grand Slam title.
In soccer, arguably the best player ever to play the game retired from international football at the age of 29. After winning his third World Cup, Pelé retired from international football by taking a lap of honor at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City after beating Italy 4-1 in the final. There can be no higher point in one’s career in which to call it quits.
Pelé continued to play for Santos for a couple of years and then came out of retirement to play for the Cosmos where he was largely successful and had a rather extravagant last game.
More recently, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, retired from international and club football. He’s had an illustrious career, winning many titles and trophies in different leagues, and the Champions League with Barcelona. He captained his country to the finals of the World Cup, and scored a brilliant goal in the semis to get them there. They sadly lost in the finals, but GVB knew it was time to go.
He no doubt could have gotten offers from many clubs or could have played in Dubai or MLS to earn a little more money, but he chose to end his career on top. Kudos to him.
What makes Guti and Raul’s decisions even more perplexing to me, is that there is no attachment or sentimental value to either of the clubs they chose. They played their entire career in the country of their birth with one club, so why Germany and Turkey?
Some players who are surplus to requirements at the end of their careers, but still want to play the game, go “back home.” Claudio Reyna, after a successful career in Scotland and England, came back to play his last year with the Red Bulls (he was born in New Jersey).
Others, like Thierry Henry, want a different (and easier) pace to end their careers and want to test themselves in a different market. Henry, aged 32, having won pretty much everything football has to offer, is going to end his career (having already retired from international football) in New York.
He has made no secret of his desire to live in the Big Apple and for him it will certainly be a less hectic scene than what he was used to. Speaking perfect English, he will be a great ambassador for foreign players in the MLS (something which Beckham failed to do, though he did pave the way), and the US is also great avenue to concentrate on his many charitable causes.
So I guess Guti and Raul are still playing as they still love the game. They could have retired as Real Madrid legends and will probably always be remembered as such. They instead decided to continue their stories elsewhere. I REALLY and TRULY hope they both win their current domestic championships and prove to everyone, and most importantly to themselves what we all know: that they were great players and now it’s time to hang the boots up. Favre…take note!