“If it hadn’t happened, people wouldn’t even remember my name. Well, maybe they would, but less.”
Raúl Tamudo was typically humble when speaking in 2016 on Catalunya Radio about El Tamudazo, one of the most iconic goals in La Liga history.
For the vast majority of Spanish football fans, the only narrative was that the Espanyol forward’s most dramatic of doubles – his second strike came just seconds after news had filtered through to a tense Camp Nou of a Real Madrid equaliser in Zaragoza – effectively cost Barcelona the title in 2006-2007.
For the striker himself, it was the moment he became the club of his dreams’ all-time top league scorer; that it effectively denied their more illustrious city rivals the chance of glory was a happy coincidence.
As far as club legends go, few tick as many boxes as Tamudo.
– In addition to being Espanyol’s record goalscorer, he is their all-time leading appearance maker.
– He scored on his debut – obviously – at Hércules in March 1997.
– He captained the club for almost a decade.
– He broke the deadlock in two Copa del Rey final victories (2000 and 2006), the first of which secured Los Pericos’ first major trophy in 60 years.
– He netted a crucial final-day goal against Real Murcia to help save his team from relegation in May 2004.
– He is the only player to have played for Espanyol at each of their three permanent homes.
– Naturally, he scored at each ground (albeit for Rayo Vallecano at RCDE Stadium).
– He bagged a hat-trick in Espanyol’s final match at the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys in May 2009.
Put simply, Tamudo, capped 13 times for Spain, was a difference maker, a man who came to the fore when his team most needed him. And boy did they need him.
Espanyol were often a decent bet for a cup run during Tamudo’s 14-season spell, with their two domestic triumphs accompanied by an excellent run to the 2007 UEFA Cup final, which they lost to Sevilla on penalties.
On a handful of occasions, though, Los Blanquiazules finished just a few points clear of the relegation zone in what were often incredibly tight battles at the wrong of the table; most of Tamudo’s 129 league goals (140 in all competitions) counted for something.
But it is not only the quantity of his goals which grabs the attention. Take a look through his highlight reel and it is difficult not to be struck by the uniqueness of so many of them.
A cool outside-of-the-foot lob on his first appearance in Alicante immediately showcased Tamudo’s remarkable composure in front of goal, which Iker Casillas will undoubtedly attest to. The legendary Real Madrid goalkeeper appeared to be waving at a long-lost friend he had spotted across the road as the most impudent of chips sailed over his head at Montjuïc in October 2007.
Tamudo was never rushed, never flustered.
It would be a mistake, however, to think he was simply a penalty-box poacher. Tamudo was the kind of striker who could be out of a game for long spells and then magically appear through a puff of smoke to find the net.
Exhibit A – Balaídos in Vigo in 2004. Latching onto a long ball forward next to the corner flag, an exquisite back heel turn on the half-volley allowed him to race past bewildered Celta defender Sergio Fernández and into the box before arrowing a typically clinical finish into the top corner.
And his finest piece of cunning comes from the early minutes of that first cup triumph against Atlético Madrid. In the ultimate “he’s behind you!” moment, Atleti keeper Toni Jiménez unwittingly played the comic lead as villain Tamudo headed a bouncing ball out of his hands and put his side on the road to victory with customary calm.
There was no type of goal Tamudo couldn’t – and didn’t – score.
Injuries, a contract dispute with the club and a falling out with the last of his 15 Espanyol managers, former teammate Mauricio Pochettino, led to him leaving in 2010 at the age of 32 for Real Sociedad and then Rayo Vallecano, Mexican outfit Pachuca and Segunda side Sabadell; his time in San Sebastián and Vallecas saw him add 17 more La Liga goals to his personal tally.
The attacker’s eventual departure brought the end of an era, but one which was only made possible by the outcome of a dramatic transfer saga which had taken place almost 10 years previously and only served to strengthen his status as an Espanyol icon.
With the club in dire financial straits, they had no option but to accept an offer from Rangers for their star man, against his wishes. Step forward Dr Gert Jan Goudswaard, who oversaw Tamudo’s medical and advised the reigning Scottish champions that their potential new acquisition, who had picked up an injury on international duty, would require surgery on both knees or be forced retire.
Rangers pulled out of the deal, Tamudo quickly recovered and the hapless doctor now has an Espanyol supporters’ club named after him – Penya Dr Gert, Diga 23.
So, what if El Tamudazo hadn’t happened? There is little danger of Espanyol fans ever forgetting the name Raúl Tamudo, and neither should the rest of us.
Check out the existing pieces in this series: