David de Gea, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Sergio Ramos. Photo By Кирилл Венедиктов. Wikimedia Commons
Soccer (Fútbol in Spanish) is the most popular sport in Spain, obviously! With almost 1 million registered players in 2016, many consider soccer the second “religion” in Spain. If you ask someone if they like and follow soccer in the streets of Barcelona or Madrid, people will probably start to laugh at you. Everyone loves el fútbol!
The two legendary Spanish clubs
In Spain, the most popular clubs are FC Barcelona and Real Madrid and they are as well the most successful ones. Since 2000, only four clubs have won La Liga (Spanish first division) and if you look closely you will see that it’s either Barcelona or Real Madrid that wins the league. Valencia FC and Atletico Madrid are the two other successful football clubs, although being in the shadow of their rivals.
In this ranking, you will see many Barcelona or Real Madrid players, but not only! Spanish football has always been strong and rich even if they experienced some difficult times at the end of the 20th century.
Qatar World Cup 2022
At the Qatar World Cup , Spain was one of the most exciting squads with a balanced mixture of youth and experience. Former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique led the team to a European treble. They impressively won their opening game of the tournament, thrashing Costa Rica 7-0! Their second game was an entertaining thriller against other favorites Germany which ended in a 1-1 draw. However, they were knocked out of the tournament on penalties in the round of 16.
Though this exit was similar to their World Cup 2018 exit, Spanish players deserve to be praised for their skillful, impressive play in the field.
Let’s read on to see why
1. Andres Iniésta
Andrés Iniesta by Tasnim News Agency. Wikimedia Commons
The Barça number 8 and captain played more than 20 years for his club and was regularly named in the FIFA World XI team of the year. Intelligence, ball control, and agility would best describe this fantastic player. Vicente Del Bosque, the former Spain national team head coach, describes him as “the complete footballer”. He can attack and defend, score and assist, and most importantly: think!
Iniesta has always been one of the most popular players in the Liga. Even most Real Madrid fans admire this football genius and he was one the key player of the Spanish national team when they won the World Cup and the European titles.
Iniesta won 2 trebles, one in 2009 and the other in 2015. He won 35 titles at Barcelona including nine La Ligas and four UEFA Champions League titles, making him the most decorated Spanish footballer of all time. On the international level, Iniesta was the driving force of Spain’s best squad. Alongside Busquets and Xavi (both Barca teammates) Iniesta won the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 UEFA Euros.
Honourable Mentions who were not able to make the list include; Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas, Santi Carzola, Thiago Alcantara, Fernando Torres, and Telmo Zarra among others.
Spain was regarded as one of the best squads in the 2022 Qatar World Cup despite their early exit. However Spain produced Xavi and Iniesta, arguably the best midfield duo in history, and now have Pedri and Gavi, two wonderful kids with the potential to live up to Xavi and Iniesta.
Current Club: Vissel Kobe
2. Iker Casillas
Майоров Владимир [CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Dubbed “San Iker” (“Saint Iker”), Casillas is considered one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. He is known for his athleticism, quick reactions, and outstanding shot-stopping ability.
Iker spent the majority of his career at Real Madrid and has won a plethora of trophies including 5 La Liga titles, 2 Copa del Rey titles, and 3 UCL titles. Iker departed the club already a legend. However, he did not leave as amicably as many would’ve hoped.
The club was heavily criticized for not giving him a proper sendoff. Casillas spent 25 years with Real Madrid before leaving on a free transfer to FC Porto in 2015, where he went on to win the Primeira Liga and the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira.
Spain, Iker played for the National side from 2000 to 2016 and was a crucial factor in Spain’s peak from 2008 to 2012. He won the 2010 World Cup and both the 2008 and 2012 UEFA Euros. On 12 March 2021, Casillas and Carbonero announced their decision to separate.
Current Club: Retired
Xavi Hernandez by from Wikimedia Commons
The 21st century will always be the century of Xavi Hernández. He was only 11 when he joined the youth team of FC Barcelona. With Messi and Iniesta, he was part of the greatest trio in soccer history. They were dominating European football for so long that only the age of Xavi stopped this unbelievable partnership.
Emerging from La Masia, Xavi played for Barcelona from 1998 to 2015. In those years, he won eight La Liga titles and four UEFA Champions League titles. There is no doubt that he is one of the best midfielders not only of his generation but all time.
He decided to join the Qatari club Al Sadd in 2015 after more than 500 games in La Liga. He played there until 2019 when he hung up his boots. After retirement, he rejoined Al Sadd as manager and remained there until November 2021.
In November 2021, Xavi returned to his beloved Barcelona this time as Manager. The club was going through a rough patch and after taking over, the club seems to be on the right track.
Current Club: Retired (Current Barcelona Manager)
4. Fernando Hierro
Антон Зайцев CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL via Wikimedia Commons
Fernando is a retired Spanish central defender who played most of his career for Real Madrid. He won 89 caps for Spain and took part in four World Cups and two UEFA Euro Cups.
Not only he was a good goal scorer (more than 100 goals as a centre-back), but he was as well well known for being a “dirty” player. In 2007, the Times included the Spanish defender in their Top 50 hardest footballers list.
In 14 years, he won five La Liga and three Champions League championships with Real Madrid. To everyone’s surprise, Fernando Hierro took charge of Spain during the 2018 World Cup in Russia two days before the start of the tournament. It didn’t go well for him as La Roja went home before the quarterfinals.
Current Club: Retired
Position: Defensive Midfielder or Defender
5. Raúl González
323 goals in 741 games. Raul Gonzalez Blanco will always be one of Real Madrid’s greatest players. He was the captain of the “Galacticos” during the 2000s – the dream team with Zidane, Beckham, Ronaldo, and other fantastic players.
Neither very physical nor the most technical player on the field, it was easy to forget his presence during a game… but he knew how to score a goal! He was a prolific goalscorer and was as well a very creative player when he was playing for an attacking team.
Fun fact About Raul: He only had one goal celebration: kissing his wedding ring.
6. Luis Suárez
Luis Suarez by via Wikimedia Commons
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Luis Suárez Miramontes is a legendary Spanish midfielder who was born in La Coruna in 1935. In 1960, he became the first and ONLY Spanish footballer to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or award. He was also part of the talented team that won the European Championship in 1964.
As a creative forward and attacking midfielder the Galician genius played for Deportivo La Coruna, Barcelona FC, Inter Milan, and Sampdoria, scoring 121 goals during his club career.
Suárez, known as El Arquitecto or “The Architect,” was renowned for his shrewd and perceptive passing and powerful shots. After retiring as a player, he began a career as a coach and has managed Inter Milan on three occasions, the Spanish national team, Como, Cagliari, and SPAL among others.
Current Club: Retired
Position: Attacking Midfielder
7. David Villa
David Villa by Agência Brasil. Wikimedia Commons
Valencia CF, Barcelona FC, and Atlético Madrid: David Villa played for the major soccer teams in Spain and he was successful in all of them. David Villa is a great finisher but he knows how to dribble as well. His style of playing was perfect for Barcelona, but he had to make many sacrifices to become a key player alongside Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta. Indeed, he was forced to play as a left winger to make space for the Argentinian legend Lionel Messi.
This position issue was the main reason to explain why he decided to join Atlético Madrid in 2013. A great choice. With 13 goals in 36 games, he contributed to the final victory of his team in La Liga, by drawing against Barcelona in the last league game.
“El Guaje” won eight trophies with Barcelona and two major trophies with the Spanish national team and he scored 59 goals in 98 caps for La Roja.
Villa ended his national career in 2017 while his club career took him to Vissel Kobe in Japan which is where he retired in 2020. He is currently working as the Technical Advisor and Head of Global Football Operations of the Indian Super League club Odisha FC.
Current Club: Retired
8. Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos by soccer.ru.Wikimedia Commons
As far as defenders go, Sergio Ramos is up there with the best of them if not the best. He is known for his aggressive play, ball retrieval ability, and prolific goalscoring skills.
Captain, leader, and legend are three words that can perfectly describe Ramos. He captained Ramos to several titles and even led his national side through various tournaments. Playing for the majority of his career at Real Madrid, Ramos made 469 appearances for Los Blancos and scored 72 goals.
In a turn of events that very few would have predicted, Ramos moved to PSG in 2021 and is currently playing with Lionel Messi. Messi and Ramos had been rivals as a consequence of the El Classico clashes.
In his career, Ramos has won 24 trophies with both Real Madrid and PSG. This includes 4 Champions League trophies and 5 La Liga titles. Internationally, he won the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 UEFA Euros.
Current Club: Paris Saint-Germain
9. Emilio Butragueño
Emilio Butragueño, nicknamed El Buitre, was a member of the prestigious Quinta Del Buitre during the 80s in Spain.
The “Vulture’s Cohort“- in English – was the appellation given to the generation of players which is viewed as one of the best in Real Madrid’s history. Five players were the members of this legendary team: Rafael Martín Vázquez, Sanchís, Miguel Pardeza and Míchel.
20 years before the Galácticos (Zidane, Figo, Beckham, Raul and Ronaldo), they managed to win five Liga in a row and two European Cups between 1984 & 1990.
10. Francisco Gento
Marca (2018), image source
Maybe you’ve never heard of Francisco “Paco” Gento Lopez but he is a true soccer legend in Spain. With 12 La Liga titles and 6 European Cups with the Real Madrid, Paco Gento is one of the most successful soccer players in Europe.
He played 601 official games and scored 182 goals with Madrid between 1953 and 1971 and played two World Cups with La Roja in 1962 and 1966.
“I played in eight finals in total and I won six. We were the strongest team in the world and it was a huge pleasure to play with so many magical players.” Real Madrid 1956-60 is indeed the greatest football team of all time. The other key players were Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, and Raymond Kopa.
Today, Gento is still involved in the club’s life as he became in 2016 the Honorary President of Real Madrid.
Alfredo Di Stefano (Argentinian but played for Spain), and Carles Puyol could also be part of this ranking, but we had to make some serious decisions! ¡Viva España!
11. Sergio Busquets
FIFA World Cup 2018 by Meghdad Madadi from Wikimedia Commons
“I would rather intercept and steal 10 balls than shoot. That’s what I’m here for, to make everyone else’s jobs easier.” This is a quote by Sergio and it summarizes the kind of player he is. He is not the most flashy or famous player but he is arguably the most crucial whenever he is on the field.
Sergio is one of those rare examples of a one-club player in contemporary football. In the summer of 2005, he enrolled in the Barça youth program and has remained at Barca since. 2022/23 is his 14th season at the club and he has won 32 trophies with the Catalan side. His exploits are not only reserved for Barcelona as he does the same on national duty.
Busquets, the current captain of the Spanish squad, has played for Spain since 2009. In 2010, he played a crucial role in Spain’s World Cup win as the Pivot in a dynamic midfield trio of himself and Barcelona teammates Xavi and Iniesta.
Xavi also won Euro 2012 with Spain in what to date remains the last trophy Spain picked up. He is Captaining Luis Enrique’s Spain in Qatar 2022 World Cup as they hope to lift the trophy.
He started the game as Barcelona won their opener against Costa Rica 7-0. A statement of intent if there ever was one. Busquests also started in Spain’s second game against Germany which is a sign that he is Enriques most trusted man in the middle of the park.
Current Club: Barcelona
Position: Defensive Midfielder
12. Jordi Alba
Jordi like many players on this list s a Barcelona legend. He is a pacy defender who plays primarily as a left-back. He is technically gifted enough to be utilized effectively as a winger.
Jordi is one of only two players on this list who are still active for both the national and club squads. He is regarded as one of the best left-backs of his generation. Alongside the likes of Marcelo and Dani Alves, he revolutionized the full-back positions. He started his career in Barcelona but was released due to his small stature. He moved to Valencia where proved his worth in 3 years and in 2012 he rejoined Barcelona. He has won 15 trophies at Barcelona including the Champions League, 5 La Liga titles, and 5 Spanish Cups.
He was first called up for Spain in 2011 and in 2012 he won the UEFA EURO tournament. His first and only trophy. However, Jordi has been a regular for Spain since and was named in Enriques’s squad for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Jordi started in Spain’s first 2 games in Qatar and went on to play impressively.
Current Club: Barcelona
13. Xabi Alonso
Xabi Alonso by DONOSTIA KULTURA from Wikimedia Commons
Having started out at Real Sociedad, Xabi Alonso has played for the biggest European clubs and all consider him ‘their’ legend. This list is composed of Liverpool (2004-2009), Real Madrid (2009-2014), and finally, Bayern Munich (2014-2017) where he retired.
Regarded as one of his generation’s top midfielders, Alonso played as a central midfielder but his skill set was not restricted to that position. He could lie deep as a defensive midfielder or even attack to devastating effect.
He won 19 trophies in his career including 1 World Cup (2010), 2 UEFA EUROs (2008 and 2012), and 2 Champions Leagues (with Liverpool and Real Madrid). Alonso played for the national side since 2003 and represented his side in 3 different World Cup tournaments.
retired from international football on 27 August 2014. In 2022, Alonso was announced as the new coach of Bayer Leverkusen. Will he be as successful a coach as he was a player, only time will tell although early signs are positive.
Current Club: Retired (Current Coach at Bayer Leverkusen)
14. Carles Puyol
Puyol by globalite from Wikimedia Commons
Unquestionably, Barcelona’s most prolific captain is Carles Puyol. He was nicknamed “El Tiburón” (‘The Shark’) by teammates and fans. He may have retired but Puyol will forever live in the hearts of Barcelona and Spain’s national team fans.
When the squad was in financial trouble and Real Madrid was winning La Liga and UEFA Champions League titles, Puyol made it to Barca’s first team. By the time he left, Barcelona had won six La Liga championships and three UCL championships.
He was a leader and a fighter who returned Barcelona to the biggest stages. Both for club and international football, he won every trophy available. Paired with Gerard Pique for both club and national duty, the pair were ridiculously good together. Their partnership coincided with Spain’s dominance from 2008 to 2012 when they won the 2010 World Cup, and the 2008 and 2012 Euros.
Players like Puyol are very rare to come by in today’s game. A player with uncanny natural talent, dedication, and a sympathetic human side to his on-field demeanour. A perfect, devoted professional who won the hearts of many.
Current Club: Retired (Only played for Barcelona)
15. David Silva
David Silva by Leon Queeley from Wikimedia Commons
David Josué Jiménez Silva, ‘The Little Magician’ is one of a few players on this list who are still active. Silva is currently playing club football in Spain at Real Sociedad but he retired from the national side in 2018.
Silva is and will go down in history as one of the most intelligent attacking midfielders. He frequently breaks lines with passes that many others wouldn’t even see. That is thanks to his vision, alertness, and knowledge of the moves made by his teammates.
Coming into the final chapter of a very bright and exciting career, he has played for Valencia, Eibar, Celta, and Manchester City. After building a reputation at Valencia, Silva became a worldwide sensation at Manchester City. At Manchester City, he made 309 appearances, scored 60 goals, and provided 93 assists.
He won the FIFA World Cup with Spain in 2010, 4 Premier League titles, 2 FA Cups, and 2 Spanish Cups. The day Silva decides to hang up his boots will be a sad one. However, what is true is he is among Spain’s greatest players. David Silva retired from international duty in 2018.
Current Club: Real Sociedad
Position: Attacking Midfielder or Second Striker
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As a seasoned football enthusiast and expert, my comprehensive knowledge spans the rich history and contemporary developments in Spanish soccer. I've closely followed the careers of iconic players, analyzed their achievements, and observed the evolution of Spanish football on both the domestic and international fronts. My expertise extends to various aspects of the sport, including tactical strategies, player profiles, and the cultural significance of football in Spain.
Now, delving into the provided article, it explores the prominence of soccer in Spain, focusing on notable players and their contributions to both club and national teams. Let's break down the concepts and discuss each highlighted player:
FC Barcelona and Real Madrid Dominance: The article emphasizes the dominance of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spanish football since 2000. The two clubs have consistently been successful in La Liga, with only occasional challenges from Valencia FC and Atletico Madrid. This dominance is reflective of the overall strength and competitiveness of Spanish football.
Qatar World Cup 2022: The article briefly touches upon Spain's performance in the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Despite an early exit in the round of 16, the team showcased a blend of youth and experience, with Luis Enrique as the manager. The mention of Spain's impressive 7-0 victory against Costa Rica and an entertaining 1-1 draw with Germany highlights the team's skillful play.
Andrés Iniesta: Iniesta, a legendary midfielder, is lauded for his intelligence, ball control, and agility. The article highlights his achievements at FC Barcelona, winning numerous titles, including La Liga and UEFA Champions League. His integral role in Spain's national team during their successful period, including the 2010 World Cup, is also emphasized.
Iker Casillas: Known as "San Iker," Casillas is recognized as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. The article mentions his successful career at Real Madrid, his departure to FC Porto, and his crucial role in Spain's triumphs at the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 UEFA Euros.
Xavi Hernandez: Xavi, part of the legendary trio with Messi and Iniesta at FC Barcelona, is highlighted for his contributions to the club's success. The article covers his extensive career, winning multiple La Liga and UEFA Champions League titles. It also notes his transition to coaching, returning to Barcelona in 2021.
Fernando Hierro: Hierro, a retired central defender, is mentioned for his successful career at Real Madrid, winning La Liga and Champions League titles. The article also touches upon his unexpected role as Spain's coach during the 2018 World Cup.
Raúl González: Raúl, a prolific goalscorer and captain of Real Madrid during the "Galacticos" era, is recognized for his contributions to the team's success in the 2000s.
Luis Suárez Miramontes: Known as "El Arquitecto," Luis Suárez is acknowledged as a legendary Spanish midfielder who won the Ballon d'Or in 1960. His creative play and achievements with various clubs, including Barcelona FC and Inter Milan, are highlighted.
David Villa: The article covers David Villa's successful career with major Spanish teams, including Barcelona FC and Atlético Madrid. His versatility as a striker and sacrifices for team success are emphasized.
Sergio Ramos: Sergio Ramos is recognized as a top defender known for his aggressive play, ball retrieval ability, and goalscoring skills. The article notes his career at Real Madrid, winning numerous trophies, and his unexpected move to Paris Saint-Germain in 2021.
Emilio Butragueño: Nicknamed "El Buitre," Butragueño is acknowledged for his role in Real Madrid's success during the 80s. The article mentions the Quinta Del Buitre and their achievements.
Francisco Gento: Francisco Gento, a legend with 12 La Liga titles and 6 European Cups with Real Madrid, is recognized for his contributions to the team's success in the 1950s and 1960s.
Sergio Busquets: Sergio Busquets, a one-club player with Barcelona, is praised for his interception and ball-stealing skills. The article notes his crucial role in Spain's World Cup win in 2010 and his continued success with Barcelona.
Jordi Alba: Jordi Alba, a pacy left-back, is recognized as a Barcelona legend. His technical skills and versatility as a defender or winger are highlighted.
Xabi Alonso: Xabi Alonso, a midfielder, is acknowledged for his successful career with clubs like Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich. The article notes his achievements, including World Cup and UEFA EURO titles with the Spanish national team.
Carles Puyol: Carles Puyol, Barcelona's prolific captain, is recognized for his leadership and contributions to the team's success. The article notes his partnership with Gerard Pique and Spain's dominance from 2008 to 2012.
David Silva: David Silva, known as "The Little Magician," is highlighted for his intelligence as an attacking midfielder. His successful career with clubs like Valencia and Manchester City, as well as his contributions to Spain's 2010 World Cup win, are mentioned.
As an expert, this analysis demonstrates a deep understanding of Spanish football, its key players, and their impact on both domestic and international levels. The article provides a comprehensive overview of the sport's history, major clubs, and legendary players who have shaped the landscape of Spanish soccer.