Raúl Tamudo: the heroic Espanyol legend behind Spanish football’s most iconic goal

Raúl Tamudo: the heroic Espanyol legend behind Spanish football’s most iconic goal

In Spanish football, it’s traditional to add an “azo” at the end of something to describe it as great. A partidazo is a great match; a golazo is a great goal. Not being a particularly great goal, the Tamudazo is a great shock.

It scarred Barcelona and probably sits as the greatest moment in Real Madrid history in which Los Blancos had nothing directly to do with it. That is because the Tamudazo wasn’t scored by a man wearing the white of Real or the Blaugrana of their Clésico rivals, but a man wearing the blue and white stripes of Espanyol. 

Raúl Tamudo was born in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Barcelona, in October 1977. He started his playing career at his local side and moved to the club he’d make his name with in 1992 for the more than reasonable price of six footballs. Generally, a meteoric talent like Tamudo only needs one break to establish himself in the senior side, however it took the young Gramenet forward three introductions to the Espanyol faithful before he eventually proved his worth.

Tamudo’s first came in March 1997. Espanyol were drawing 1-1 with Hércules in a proverbial relegation six-pointer when the youngster came on. With a minute left to play, the debutant broke free of his markers and scored a marvellous chip over the onrushing goalkeeper, making his first-ever goal a crucial one.

With that victory, Espanyol climbed out of the automatic relegation spots and eventually finished 12th, Tamudo featured in ten of their 12 matches, scoring another goal in a 2-0 win over Real Oviedo a few weeks later. 

A good first impression did him no favours, however, and he returned to the periphery the following season and would have to wait until the summer of 1998 for his next chance to impress. Following a fruitless end to the season on loan to Alavés, Tamudo was chosen alongside the rest of Espanyol’s B team to represent the club in the Intertoto Cup.

He scored twice as the Barcelona outfit surprised everyone by reaching the semi-finals, finally falling to eventual champions Valencia. Their success forced first-team coach Marcelo Bielsa to promote several of Tamudo’s teammates – however, once again, the forward was ignored and instead sent out on loan to second division Lleida.

It was here, in west Catalonia, that Tamudo finally demonstrated his first-team pedigree, quickly establishing himself as a fan-favourite among the faithful. By January his form was impossible to ignore and he was recalled to help Espanyol out of another relegation jam. Tamudo fulfilled expectations, scoring five goals and leading Espanyol to victory in their last seven games to finish seventh.

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Heading into the 1999/2000 season, Tamudo had finally established himself as a first-team starter at the third time of asking. His arrival came in the nick of time as expectations rose for Espanyol’s centenary season. With so many promising youth prospects now playing in the senior side, fans were expecting the club to mark the occasion, however their early league form did no such thing. Espanyol won just four of their first ten LaLiga matches, among the defeats a 3-0 loss to local rivals Barcelona. 

Bielsa was sacked in January following a 2-0 defeat to Málaga, his side only overseeing six victories in 20 league matches. Paco Flores, who had managed the famous reserve side, took over and things improved as Espanyol began to steer out of relegation trouble. Tamudo, having scored just four goals under Bielsa, had managed four in six games under Flores. 

By the halfway point, Espanyol had little to play for in the league and started focusing on the Copa del Rey, where they’d enjoyed some luck so far. They beat Celta in the round of 16 and Compostela in the quarters. It seemed Los Blanquiazules had gone as far as they could when they were drawn against Real Madrid in the next round – but Tamudo and co weren’t there to make up the numbers.

A tense first leg finished scoreless in the Bernabéu, a good result on paper, though Espanyol would have returned to Barcelona disappointed having not capitalised on a number of good chances. 

Fortunately, they weren’t made to pay for it at home. Martín Posse scored within a half an hour to send Espanyol to their first Copa del Rey final in 43 years, with Atlético Madrid standing between them and history. Los Rojiblancos had been surprisingly relegated in the league, however Espanyol hadn’t fared much better, failing to score in their last seven matches and losing five of them for a midtable finish. 

Despite their abysmal league season, Atlético entered the game as favourites and were expected to pick up a consolation prize before, in the words of club president Jesús Gil, their “season in hell”.

Two minutes into the final and Atleti goalkeeper Toni Jiménez had confidently seized an early Espanyol attack. He stood up and bounced the ball. Going for a second bounce, Tamudo stole the ball out of his hands and rounded the floundering goalkeeper tp put Espanyol in front. It was his first cup goal of the season 

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A stunning Sergio González volley late in the second half practically secured the trophy for Espanyol despite a Jimmy Floyd Hassielbank additional-time consolation. Following Espanyol’s first cup victory in 60 years, Tamudo was given extra reason to celebrate, getting called up for the national team. 

He made his bow in a 4-1 loss to Germany. That same summer, Tamudo travelled with La Roja to the Olympics where he won a silver medal. Characteristically, the Espanyol forward chose his moment to make an impact. He scored a single goal all tournament, the opener in the semi-finals against the United States.

The Olympics rounded off a standout campaign for Tamudo, one that had caught the eye of potential suitors abroad. One such suitor was Rangers, whose £10.5m offer was too much for a debt-ridden Espanyol to resist. Tamudo didn’t want to leave Barcelona but felt he had little choice with the club reportedly telling him to leave or they wouldn’t be able to pay his teammates.

Walking to the airport in tears, he travelled to the Ibrox for his medical before officially signing for the Scottish side. Much to the relief of a homesick Tamudo and Espanyol with hindsight, the 23-year-old failed his medical. Dr Gert Jan Goudswaard, Rangers’ team doctor, was sceptical of Tamudo’s knee and recommended that he be sent back to Barcelona. Today, Goudswaard lends his name to a few grateful Espanyol penas. 

The failed move left Tamudo feeling insecure and he returned eager to make himself indispensable at the Estadi Olímpic. He scored 11 throughout the 2000/01 season, one better than his previous season’s tally. The following year, he hit a club-record 17, among those strikes braces which secured victories against Barcelona and Real Madrid.

That summer, Paco Flores’ contract wasn’t renewed, and he was replaced by Juande Ramos. Tamudo shared a close relationship with Flores and was disappointed by his departure; to make matters worse, he struggled with injuries for much of the following campaign, though he still managed to score ten goals. 

Tamudo returned to full fitness at late-2003, a time when Espanyol were ten points adrift safety and looked doomed for the drop. The new club captain teamed up with Iván de la Peña and scored 16 goals in the second half of the season, including another decisive strike in that campaign’s six-pointer against Real Murcia to secure survival. 

Tamudo’s plight with injury and consistency continued following his 2003/04 return. In 2004/05, he managed just four goals from open play and just two in his first 15 games of the 2005/06 season. Despite this, the records started to fall. In September, Tamudo became the second most capped international player in Espanyol history. 

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He once again managed to get himself together following the winner break, scoring ten goals during the second half of the 2005/06 season to lift Espanyol out of relegation trouble for the fourth time in his career. While he was doing that, his teammates were on the hunt for another Copa del Rey and reached a second final in six years, this time against Real Zaragoza. Tamudo had played little part in the team’s success, the final just his second cup start of the season. Despite that, his final performance once again stole headlines. 

This time it took just 90 seconds for Tamudo to score the opener, heading home a rebounded free-kick. When Real Zaragoza equalised, he set up Luis García to put Espanyol back in front. Two more goals in the final 20 minutes secured a dominant cup victory for Tamudo’s team. Having won just two Copa titles in 90 years of pre-Tamudo existence, the second title propelled Espanyol’s captain into legend, something he would only add to the following year. 

The 2006/07 season is often touted as the most gripping title race in LaLiga history, despite the fact it started rather one-sided. Barcelona, having won the two previous titles, dominated the opening half of the season, winning ten of their first 14 matches. Heading into the Christmas break, they were four points clear of Real Madrid and two ahead of second-place Sevilla, who had enjoyed a historic start to their campaign.

Following a surprise defeat in the Club World Cup to Internacional, Barcelona began to bleed points in January. Real Madrid, meanwhile, did just the opposite, suffering a single defeat following the New Year and collecting points in games they should have lost. By the time the second-last matchday had arrived, Los Blancos topped the table on a superior head-to-head record and looked destined for a surprise 30th league title. 

As well as its significance to Spanish football, the 2006/07 season was crucial for Tamudo as well. In game week seven, he scored his 100th LaLiga goal against Racing Santander. Later on that season, he became the second-most capped player in Espanyol history and, heading into that fateful second-last matchday against Barcelona, he was in touching distance of becoming Espanyol’s all-time top scorer.

Espanyol had the beating of their derby rivals that year, winning at home 3-1, and struck the first blow at the Camp Nou. De la Peña broke away following a Barcelona attack and reached their six-yard box. Seeing Tamudo peeling off his marker, he played a pass into the feet of the Spaniard who knocked the ball into the top corner to level Rafael Marañón’s goalscoring record. 

Two minutes after Tamudo’s opener, Real Zaragoza took the lead against Real Madrid, meaning the title race remained unchanged despite the flurry of goals. A further ten minutes later, and a teenage Lionel Messi rose highest to equalise for Barcelona despite clearly using his hand to score. The referee ignored the away side’s pleas – Barcelona went a point clear at the top of the table. 

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Things remained this way until half-time, Real pushed for an equaliser at the La Romareda but failed to make anything clear-cut while the scores remained level in Barcelona.

Starting fractionally earlier than Real Madrid’s match, Barcelona pushed for a second goal after half-time and eventually got it. Some patient Xavi play led to Deco turning away from his marker to play Messi in the clear. Despite his young age, the 19-year-old made no mistake with his near-post finish. Barcelona were now three points clear at the top. 

Real had made several comebacks in the second half of the campaign and weren’t unfamiliar with being down and out. Seconds after Messi’s go-ahead goal, Ruud van Nistelrooy headed in an equaliser. Zaragoza went back in front on the 64th minute, Diego Milito securing his brace, but Real had the bit between their teeth now. With a minute of regular time to go, Van Nistelrooy once again brought them level as all Merengues eyes turned to Espanyol.

The commentators at the Camp Nou were just reacting to Real’s equaliser when a pass snapped Barcelona’s offside trap. Caught in a race with Victor Valdés, Tamudo defeated Barcelona’s goalkeeper with ease and slotted home the most iconic goal in LaLiga history. With one strike, Tamudo had become Espanyol’s all-time top goalscorer, a Real Madrid cult hero, and public enemy number one for half the city of Barcelona. 

In his post-match report, Espanyol-supporting columnist Tomás Guash wrote: “That was the fuck of the century – an orgasm screamed out with all your might.” Guash would write a book on Tamudo that summer, while sales of t-shirts and scarves with Tamudo’s number 23 on them skyrocketed.

Madrid-based newspaper AS went with the notable safer headline of “Thanks Espanyol” while Mundo Deportivo prayed for a Real-style miracle to work against Los Merengues during the final matchday. Sadly for the Blaugrana, it never happened. José António Reyes’s brace ensured that they won their 30th league title and first trophy in four years. 

Espanyol, with nothing to play for, dedicated the last game of the 2006/07 season to Tamudo for breaking Marañón 25-year-old scoring record. He marked the occasion with another goal, though he couldn’t prevent a 3-1 defeat to Deportivo. 

Espanyol finished 11th that year, but had enjoyed a successful season outside of taking the league title away from Barcelona. Qualifying for the UEFA Cup as Copa del Rey champions, they made a surprise run to the final, beating Ajax, Benfica and Werder Bremen along the way. Tamudo had played a minimal role up until the last-16, where he scored the second goal in a 4-0 win against Maccabi Haifa. He followed up that strike with the opener in the quarter-finals against Benfica. 

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The legendary striker failed to add another iconic final performance to his illustrious CV in Hampden, coming off in the 73rd minute as Espanyol fell to Sevilla on penalties.

Nonetheless, he continued his champagne form into the following season and was picked for the national team’s European qualifier against Denmark. A victory would secure La Roja’s place at Euro 2008 and Tamudo ensured just that, scoring the opener and assisting another. 

The final two years of Tamudo’s career at Espanyol were mixed; he became the club’s all-time top appearance maker and once again helped save them from relegation in 2009, scoring his first hat-trick against Málaga to secure survival. It was probably Espanyol’s finest escape from the drop, having gone three months without victory in Tamudo’s absence and were eight points adrift with ten to play when their captain returned. 

Despite this, Tamudo had failed to reach double figures that season, the first time since the turn of the century that he had failed to do so. His performances were criticised and he was accused of upsetting the dressing room, which made him a decisive figure at the RCDE Stadium. During his final season at the club, the 23rd minute of each game saw half the stadium cheer Tamudo and the other half boo him. 

The arrival of Mauricio Pochettino saw the beginning of the end of Tamudo at Espanyol. The Argentine made Dani Jarque captain as the striker barely played through the 2009/10. Before the season ended, the club announced they wouldn’t be renewing Tamudo’s contract. His final match for Los Periquitos was against Osasuna, where he came on as a substitute and was given an emotional farewell by the club. 

He moved to Real Sociedad that summer, enjoying a modest comeback. In January 2011, he became the highest-scoring Catalan in LaLiga history with his 133rd league goal against Almería. He left after just one campaign with La Real, moving to Rayo Vallecano before one final stop at Sabadell. He retired in 2014. 

Tamudo will always be associated with one moment in Spanish football history, which is a bit of a shame in the context of his entire career. On one hand, his humble beginnings match up nicely with those who see the Tamudazo as a strike of blue and white lightning during the 2006/07 season; however, the 13 years of heroic moments leave no doubt that if anyone was going to score that goal at the climax of the 2006/07 season, it was always going to be Raúl Tamudo. 

By Kristofer McCormack

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