Raúl Tamudo – The Espanyol legend who cost six footballs

There are many ways to become a club legend. You can be locally born, and tap into the ‘one of our own’ emotional ties with the fans. You can be the club’s all-time top scorer. You can play almost 400 games for the club. You can score in cup final victories. You can score the late goal that denies a league title to your often deemed more illustrious neighbours, or of course, you can do all of those things, and many more. Put it another way. You can be Raúl Tamudo.

Tamudo was born in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Barcelona and, was signed to Espanyol from his local club, UDA Gramenet, in exchange for six footballs in one of those apparently bizarre deals that only enhance legendary status. After graduating through the club’s youth system, he joined the Espanyol B team in 1996. During his two seasons at this level, he quickly demonstrated a natural ability as a goalscorer, netting 20 times in 46 appearances. It was sufficient evidence for the club to decide that an occasional venture into the first team would not be inappropriate and 14 La Liga games bringing two goals only underscored the potential. It was then decided that a couple of loan periods with second-tier clubs would be an ideal finishing school for the following season, before drafting him into first team action.

After spending time with both Alaves and Lleida, the latter proving by far the more successful with six goals in 18 appearances, Tamudo joined the first team squad for the 1999-00 season. It goes without saying that, of course, he would mark his debut against Hercules with a goal. Across the next dozen seasons, he would play 389 games for the Budgies, becoming the club’s captain and iconic leader, and scoring 140 goals for a club that always seemed destined to be Spain’s second city’s second club.

Lacking the financial muscle of their neighbours from across the city at this time, Espanyol were never going to be a club that collected trophies with regularity. Their successes were therefore both rare and joyously celebrated. Inevitably, at the centre of these triumphs, there would be Raúl Tamudo, not only leading the line as the established striker but also leading the club as its captain and symbol.

Tamudo’s first term as an accepted member of the first-team squad, also brought him his first winners’ medal as Espanyol claimed their first Copa del Rey triumph since 1940 when back in those dark days under Franco’s authoritarian rule, which was labelled as the Copa del Generalísimo. The club’s route to success had taken them to the final via a semi-final victory against Real Madrid, and in the showpiece, played at Valencia’s Mestalla, they would face another club from the nation’s capital, in the guise of Los Colchoneros of Atlético Madrid.

The 22-year-old Tamudo was to make his mark in the game early on. Despite tumbling to relegation that same season, Atleti were many pundits’ favourites to claim the prize, and in Dutch striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, they had a player who would net 33 goals in 44 games during his single season with the club, before scampering off to Chelsea in exchange for £15 million. It would be the other team’s striker who would make the headlines though. The game was barely two minutes old when Atleti goalkeeper Toni Jiménez plunged low to his left to gather the ball. Rising to his feet, he bounced the ball, scanning upfield as his players advanced. He had failed to notice, however, the quick-witted Tamudo hovering just out of his sight. As the bounced ball climbed back into the air, the Espanyol player struck. Appearing from the goalkeeper’s left, he headed the ball cheekily away, collected it, turned and feinted past Jiménez’s despairing drive to slide the ball home. It was the cheekiest of goals, but all the more celebrated for that impudence.

For a while it looked to be the likely game-winning strike but, inside the final ten minutes, Sergio added a second goal, before Hasselbaink’s consolation strike in the final throws of the game. It was a night of celebration for the Periquitas, made all the more special by the audacity of Tamudo’s goal, and the fact that the club at the Camp Nou had ended the season empty-handed.

By the time Espanyol next competed in a Copa del Rey Final, six years later, Tamudo’s drive and ability had seen him gain the captain’s armband. He had also clearly gained an ability to deliver early goals in cup finals. In the 2006 final, Espanyol were pitted against Real Zaragoza. The Budgies had endured a hugely disappointing season, finishing just a couple of points above the relegation zone, after a fifth-place finish the previous term had qualified them for the UEFA Cup. The Copa del Rey offered hope of redemption, and it was, of course, Tamudo who set them on their way to victory.

Three minutes in, a free-kick from Iván de la Peña struck the crossbar. Again though, exhibiting the quick thinking that had brought that audacious goal half-a-dozen years earlier, it was Tamudo who capitalised to head the rebound home. Zaragoza rallied briefly when Brazilian forward Ewerthon forced the ball over the line on the half-hour, but it would be clever play by Tamudo who guided Espanyol back in front just five minutes later. Chasing a ball down the left flank, he drew defenders towards him, creating space in the box. Then, he exposed the vulnerability by crossing perfectly for Luis Garcia to head home. Zaragoza were done, and two other goals added to the triumph as Tamudo lifted the trophy. It qualified the club for another run at the UEFA Cup. This time, they would reach the final, but lose out in a penalty competition against Sevilla.

That same season though saw Tamudo achieve a personal milestone, becoming Espanyol’s all-time top scorer when he scored both goals in a 2-2 draw with Barcelona, taking him to 112. The second of those two strikes also carried much greater significance. Going into the last round of games, a victory for the Blaugrana would give them a more realistic shot at the title ahead of Real Madrid, and leading 2-1 with time almost up, they seemed set for glory in front of a packed Camp Nou.

Tamudo had already worried the Cules, by putting the visitors ahead on 30 minutes with an exquisite shot curled past Valdes, but a brace by Messi – the first apparently punched into the net – had the Barca fans believing that their title dreams were alive and well. Then with time all but up, the ball fell to Tamudo on the right of the Barca penalty area. He drew Valdes, and with matador like poise and timing, waited before slipping the ball past the goalkeeper and into the net. The goal gifted the title to Los Blancos as the Camp Nou crowd fell into hushed disbelief. The goal that forever is celebrated as the Tamudazo by Espanyol fans took schadenfreude to new heights in the Catalan capital. Legends may not be born at such moments, but they are definitely confirmed in them.

Even legends move on though, and in the final two years of his time with Espanyol, Tamudo was troubled by injuries and potential replacements being brought in. In the 2008-09 season, he would score only six times. The first time he had failed to hit double figures since the turn of the century. It marked the beginning of the end. A dispute with manager Mauricio Pochettino only served to compound the issue and, approaching his 33rd birthday, he left to join Real Sociedad.  

The next few years would see a steady decline in both form and fortune as a series of moves ended with Tamudo featuring for Sabadell in Segunda División, before retiring aged 37. It had been a career of more than 500 games, and 166 goals, but perhaps the most significant number is the one relating to how many footballs it cost Espanyol to secure his services. Very few legends come that cheaply.

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