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What you need to know about Raul Gonzalez, the manager

Project Visit Around El Clasico Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for Laureus

2019 has been a year to remember for Raul Gonzalez. The Madrid legend snatched a big promotion within the Fábrica ranks at the start of March, taking over the Juvenil B management role after Alvaro Benito was sacked. Since then, he has overseen six wins secured on an aggregate score line of 23–6.

The highlight victory so far was a roller coaster 3–2 win away to Atletico Madrid B which all but secured the group title that Juvenil B officially won last weekend after Atleti lost to Leganes B. Due to the performances, début title and Manolo Diaz’s desire to leave his current role, Raul is now being widely touted as the next Castilla manager with much of the Spanish press reporting that he will succeed Diaz at the end of the season while Xabi Alonso will be promoted to Juvenil A manager.

One would think that a jump from managing an under-16s side to managing a team in the Spanish third division in six months would mean that Raul’s managerial pedigree is clear. However, Raul (the manager) is still largely unknown, and has a lot to learn as a coach before he’d ideally be handed the responsibility of managing Castilla. Take, for example, his recent title win with Juvenil B. The fresh-faced Spanish coach certainly deserves credit for seeing Juvenil B to the finish line, however, even he himself acknowledges that all he did was carry on from where his predecessor left off. When he took over from Alvaro Benito in March, Juvenil B were unbeaten and cruising towards a record breaking season despite the narrow gap between themselves and Atletico Madrid B in second place.

Stepping out for a little bit more context also takes the shine off the achievement. Though records are patchy regarding this, it seems most sources agree that Juvenil B have won their group title for the last ten years running. One need only watch a few Juvenil B games to see the gap in quality between the young Blanco side and their rivals. Real are a better team technically than almost all their opponents in the Liga Nacional and appear to be physically better as well, scoring a number of late goals under Raul to make some victories look much more comfortable than they actually were (their recent 3–1 win over Atletico de Pinto A and late 3-2 comeback victory over Rayo Vallecano are examples of this).

As a result of their dominance, many of the early managerial traits Raul has shown thus far are also traits one is used to seeing from teams that know they are much better than their opponents. Juvenil B dominate the ball, they push high up, and have scored some spectacular goals as a result. One of the defining features of Raul’s team so far is their ability to hold the ball in the tightest of spaces, this often allows them to crack open deep sitting defences with a couple quick passes or shift the ball across the six yard box for an extra man to fire home. They also cut back crosses to great effect, largely because the wing players are so good at beating their respective markers through their superior technical quality.

Encouraging, aesthetically pleasing attacking football are generally not attributes to worry about in young managers — however, these traits are concerning in Raul’s case as he is highly unlikely to replicate them with Castilla. Unlike in youth football, Castilla are a youth team that often face professional sides. Should they get promoted to the Segunda division, they will face professional teams every game, some of which will have been played top flight football in very recent memory. In terms of experience and development potential, it’s a wonderful opportunity for Real Madrid’s B team, however, for a manager who is yet to lose a game of football, it’s a trial by fire (spouted from the nostril of the meanest dragon you can imagine). Losing (often repeatedly) is a fundamental part of a manager’s development and how a manager reacts to defeat will speak hugely of his pedigree.

Before even getting into expectations, it’s worth repeating that Raul has never lost a game of football as a manager. Should Castilla’s season end in the best-case scenario with promotion, Raul will be facing the prospect of playing games where his sole objective will be to keep the score as low as possible. A tight relegation battle in Spanish second division is the best Castilla can hope for and even then, survival is extremely difficult. What placing a young and inexperienced manager like Raul into an environment like that could do to him mentally is concerning and could shun his development as a manager if he doesn't take to setbacks very well.

Even in the most ideal scenario for Raul, where Castilla narrowly miss out on promotion, there will no doubt be expectation from the club for him to get the B side challenging for promotion once more meaning that Raul will have the added weight of expectation alongside all the mental hurdles he is yet to face as a manager.

There are also worries for Castilla in this scenario as well. They have just come out of quite a damaging three-year spell under Santiago Solari. If it does materialize that this job has come too soon for Raul, then Real Madrid’s reserve side could be set to suffer another long spell of malaise and stagnation. Of course, no Castilla manager is likely to be as bad as Solari, but hiring a manager who could end up being only marginally better is more than a bit pointless.

There are small things to get excited about Raul as a manager. He is clearly close to his players at Juvenil B and has been able to produce some wonderfully entertaining football in his limited time in charge. Currently, Juvenil B are on course for an unbeaten season and should Raul successfully guide them towards that, he will deserve even more plaudits than the ones he has already gained from carrying on Alvaro Benito’s good work. Nonetheless, it is way too early to speak on Raul’s potential ceiling as a coach and, as such, it is probably too early to give him the reigns at Castilla. Of course, defying expectation is something Raul is already quite used to, so should he take the wheel at Castilla, expect even the most skeptical Castilla fan to be right behind him heading into next season.

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