Raul Gonzalez Blanco, one of the greatest players ever to wear the white shirt of Real Madrid, has bid an emotional farewell to the club where he made his debut at the age of 17, and moved to Bundesliga side Schalke.

“The time has come,” said the 33-year-old. “I want to know what football is like in another culture before returning home again.

”I feel sad today because I have spent so many years here. I’ve given everything while wearing this shirt. My children are also sad because they are Madrid supporters, but now I’m beginning a new stage in my career.”

Raul’s career has been showered with titles and records. As well as six Spanish championships and three Champions Leagues, he scored 323 times in 741 games for Real and is Spain’s all-time leading scorer with 44 goals in 102 appearances.

In contrast, Schalke, who are based in Germany’s industrial Ruhr region, won the last of their seven titles in 1958.

“It’s great news for Schalke,” says the German club’s coach, Felix Magath. “I am pleased that we have succeeded in such an exceptional footballer and world-class striker switching to the Bundesliga for Schalke.

“He will be an inspiration. His qualities will help us.”

Yet Raul’s career has been in decline since he failed to make Spain’s squad for Euro 2008. Overlooked by Manuel Pellegrini at Madrid last season, he has now been shown the door, along with another long-serving player, Guti, by Jose Mourinho as the new coach seeks to impose his will on the club.

Last season Raul had hinted at ending his career in the USA and he was recently linked with Tottenham Hotspur, but his wages are likely to have been a significant turn-off. “Financially,

I don’t think it would be possible to do a deal,” said Spurs boss Harry Redknapp.

Schalke were able to tempt Raul into a two-year contract as they can offer Champions League football this season – and he needs just three more goals to overtake Gerd Muller’s all-time European club competition record haul of 69.