Raul: 'I never thought Zinedine Zidane could be a coach'

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    Story highlights

    • Zidane, Raul played together at Real Madrid
    • Striker Raul made 741 appearances for Real
    • Now retired from football living in New York

    (CNN)They lifted the Champions League and La Liga trophies together as part of Real Madrid's world-renowned Galacticos era -- but today Raul Gonzalez and Zinedine Zidane lead very different lives.

    While legendary striker Raul -- who scored 323 goals in 741 appearances for the club -- has settled down in New York with his wife and five children, his former teammate Zidane remains at the heart of the fiery cauldron that is the Santiago Bernabeu as Real's coach.
    The Frenchman has enjoyed much success since being appointed boss of Los Blancos in January last year, winning the European Champions League and breaking a Spanish record by going 40 games unbeaten. But Raul admits he never expected the former World Cup winner to become a manager.
    "When we were teammates, I never thought that Zizou in the future could be a coach," the 39-year-old told CNN World Sport Tuesday.
    "But that's life. I think when he retired, after he tried the second team in Real Madrid (Real Madrid Castilla), from one day to another he decided to be a coach, and he's doing well.
    Zidane (right) and Raul (center) celebrate with Real Madrid teammate Ronaldo.
    "All the Madridistas, we're very happy for him and we hope he'll stay in this position for a long time. He's a very nice person, very humble. He knows perfectly the soccer and Real Madrid and I think the most important thing is that the players are very happy with him."
    A 6-2 aggregate win over Napoli ensured Real advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday for a seventh successive year. In La Liga, Madrid's form has stuttered of late, but Los Blancos are well-positioned to win the title, trailing titleholder Barcelona by a point with a game in hand.

    New York 'paradise'

    No player has made more Real Madrid appearances that Raul, and only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more Champions League goals. Although he didn't win any major competitions in his 102 appearances for Spain, his 44 goals set a record that has since been broken by David Villa.
    After spending 16 years at Madrid, Raul enjoyed stints at Germany's Schalke 04, Qatari team Al Sadd and New York Cosmos. Now settled in the US, he is enjoying a more peaceful way of life with his family away from Spain's football-mad culture.
    "In New York, it's perfect, it's like a paradise for me," he said. "I can take the subway every day to get to the office, I can work with my kids.

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    A post shared by Hugo Gonzalez (@hugo_gonzalez.r) on

    "Of course there are a lot of tourists, there are people who like football here in New York and sometimes they recognize me. But otherwise I can live a quiet life. In Spain, in my city, Madrid -- I feel very good when I come back.
    "For me my pillar in my life is my wife," added Raul, who after scoring a goal would celebrate by kissing his wedding ring. "We've created an amazing family, and when I scored goals it was for her and for my kids."
    His son Hugo plays for New York City FC's Under-14 team, though Raul is conscious of not putting too much pressure on him in continuing the Gonzalez football lineage.
    "Only I try to support him, and not to push him. And I think that for my kids, or in this case, he has started to go to school to be a good boy, and after I try to support his passion to play soccer and I think now he is very happy in NYC."

    Lucky number

    Having occupied Real's legendary No. 7 shirt -- the same one now worn by Ronaldo -- for so many years, Raul looks back at his illustrious club career with considerable pride.
    "I feel for Real Madrid, the number seven is a legacy. It plays a big history in the club now, the number seven -- Emilio Butragueño, Amancio Amaro, Juanito. This number is something symbolic for the club.
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    "It's not the most important, but for me it was a big honor to take this number through 15, 16 seasons."
    While it might seem difficult for a sporting icon like Raul to envisage a life without football, now two years into his retirement he admits he once contemplated pursuing a very different career path -- as a vet.
    "When I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. I always played football, but otherwise I wanted to help and be a doctor to animals. That was my other way, but luckily I was a football player and I could enjoy my dream."
    Veterinary medicine's loss has certainly been football's gain.