Real Madrid’s Best Ever Players

The most successful club in European football, Real Madrid enjoyed success in different eras. While they always compete at the very top level, the team that dominated the first decade of the European Cup and Carlo Ancelotti’s BBC-inspired side stands out in particular.

As such, our all-time best Real Madrid players section centres around those two spells. Before delving into it, let’s credit the ones that came close to cracking the list: the Honourable Mentions.

  • Santiago Bernabeu (1911-1920) (1921-1926) – 79 official games, 68 goals – his 35-year long reign as a president shaped the club, but he was also instrumental in one Copa del Rey and nine regional championships as a player
  • Ricardo Zamora (1930-1936) – 152 games – the goalkeeper who was born in Barcelona was Real’s star player in their first two La Liga crowns. Trophy for the goalie with the least number of La Liga goals named after him.
  • José Antonio Camacho (1973-1989) – 542 games, 9 goals – spent his entire professional career at Real and won 9 La Liga championships as a staring left-back
  • Emilio Butragueño (1982-1995) – 451 games, 167 goals – at the only European club he played for, the diminutive striker won six La Liga titles. Since 2009, he has been working as Real Madrid’s chairman.
  • Hugo Sanchez (1985-1992) – 267 games, 199 goals – the Mexican poacher won five La Liga titles and five Pichichi trophies for topping scoring charts.
  • Roberto Carlos (1996-2007) – 527 games, 70 goals – the legendary Brazilian left-back had his productive spell in Madrid winning 13 trophies in the process
  • Guti (1996-2010) – 542 games, 77 goals – the graceful midfielder spent his entire career at his local club before ending his career with Besiktas
  • Luis Figo (2000-2005) – 245 games, 57 goals – his controversial signing from Barcelona started Real’s first Galactico era.
  • Marcelo (2007-2022) – 546 games, 38 goals – including 5 Champions League, the iconic Brazilian left-back won 25 trophies at Real
  • Luka Modric (2012-current) – 2018 Ballon d’Or winner and five-time Champions League winner
  • Toni Kroos (2014-current) – formed a commendable midfield pairing with Casemiro and Modric

We can now turn our attention to ten of the very best in all-white colours.

  1. Ferenc Puskas

1958 – 1967 (262 games, 242 goals scored)

Major titles: 3 European Cups, 5 La Liga, Copa del Rey, Intercontinental Cup, 4 La Liga top-scorer

Another iconic Real Madrid player whose name is engraved in a prestigious award, Ferenc Puskas was a legendary goal-scorer who broke records left and right in his time at Madrid.

The Hungarian’s left foot made him one of the greatest strikers in football history, despite only joining Real Madrid at the age of 31 after a two-year ban by UEFA for how things ended at Honved Budapest.

Part of the great Hungarian national team of the 1950s alongside Barcelona’s Sandor Kocsis, Puskas also formed an excellent striking partnership with Alfredo Di Stefano, culminating in the two players scoring all the goals in a historic 7-3 European Cup victory against Eintracht Frankfurt. 

For Spanish media, Puskas was an overweight striker at the end of his career. But that was until they quickly found out about his sheer class. He wrote a beautiful story in his 30s that FIFA named the award for the best goal of the year after him.

Including the Glasgow final and just before retirement in his final season, Puskas helped Real Madrid win three European Cups. He scored more than 20 league goals in each of his first six seasons.

While his striking instinct was his trademark, Puskas was sublime with his first touch of the ball and precise passing. He usually used to maneuver from inside left to get himself into the perfect goal-scoring chances. Puskas also had a habit of exploiting his markers with dummy dribbles.

  1. Paco Gento

1953 – 1971 (600 games, 182 goals scored)

Major titles: 6 European Cups, 12 La Liga, 2 Copa del Rey, Intercontinental Cup, World Club Championship

Gento is the only player to win six European Cups (Champions League) as a player. The left-winger was a solid contributor to Real Madrid’s early dominance in the continental front.

His dribbling skill was supported by lightning pace and accurate deliveries. His hat-trick of assists for the aforementioned European Cup final win against Frankfurt was a perfect showcase for his qualities.

With Di Stefano, Raymond Kopa, Hector Rial and Puskas, he was the main actor when Real Madrid won five back-to-back European Cups. And, for his sixth, he captained the side in the final against Partizan in 1966.

And, in 1967, he took more responsibility with Puskas’ retirement adding more pressure on the young side as Di Stefano already moved to Espanyol. The speedy winger was an effective player with his crossing ability helping him to rack up many assists in an era those numbers weren’t recorded in the manner they do now.

In total, Gento played 18 seasons at Madrid after signing for the club from his local team Racing de Santander. In 2016, the club named him an honorary president for his dedication and devotion to the club. When Alfredo Di Stefano died in 2014, Gento became the honorary club president.

  1. Fernando Hierro

1989 – 2003 (601 matches, 127 goals)
Major titles: 3 Champions League, 5 La Liga, Copa del Rey, 2 Intercontinental Cup

Hierro made a name for himself with his versatility and leadership qualities. Starting his career as a midfielder, he ended his colorful Real Madrid spell being one of the club’s best defenders of all time.

His skillset helps him adapt to different challenges. He’s not only a reliable defender for duels on air, but his powerful shots helped him score more than a century of goals from his deep playing position.

He was also a remarkable player for building attacks from the back with supreme technical qualities. His dedication and passion stand out in his 14 years of stay at the club.

The trophy catalogue, which includes three Champions Leagues, from his time at Real Madrid, is very impressive. His first, in 1998, has a special place for him as he starred in the final to cancel out Juventus’ star striker Alessandro Del Piero.

Hierro is a rare type of player who could be extra competitive with hard tackles while also displaying a range of passing that is only to be expected from the best midfielders in the game.

He ended his footballing career only two years after he departed from the club in 2003. In the 2014/15 season, he was part of Carlo Ancelotti’s coaching team. 

  1. Karim Benzema

2009 – 2023 (648 matches, 354 goals)
Major titles: 5 Champions League, 4 La Liga, 3 Copa del Rey, 5 Club World Cups

The 2022 Ballon d’Or winner is the second top scorer in the history of Real Madrid. His iconic partnership with the leader of that rank, Cristiano Ronaldo, was key in Real Madrid dominating Europe once again.

That spell had them win in four of the five Champions League seasons from 2014 to 2018. And, in 2022, without Cristiano and Gareth Bale’s help, Benzema shone with special performances on big nights to help them reach another European final.

The Frenchman scored ten goals – including two hat-tricks – to dispatch PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City in the knockout stage of the competition. He won the Champions League top-scorer and Pichichi awards for that season.

With 25 trophies, he currently holds the record for the most successful player in the club’s history alongside Marcelo. For a while, Benzema was a remarkable team player while some questioned his scoring output.

That’s all gone out of the window with that historic season helping him win the Ballon d’Or two months before his 35th birthday. He left the Spanish capital for Saudi after 14 years of service.

  1. Zinedine Zidane

2001 – 2006 (227 matches, 49 goals)
Major titles: Champions League, La Liga, Intercontinental Cup

Let’s turn our attention to another Frenchman who won the Ballon d’Or with Real Madrid. Unlike Benzema, who he managed to glory, Zidane only had a brief spell at the club.

And he only scored 49 goals. But his influence can even be found within those goals. One of those – a left-footed volley in the Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen – would forever be remembered in the club’s cherished European story.

Zizou marked his place amongst Real Madrid’s greats with both his natural talent and true dedication to the game. He ended his playing career at the very top level with Real Madrid after his infamous red card in the 2006 World Cup.

Before Real, he was already a big star with what he achieved at Bordeaux and Juventus as well as his two headers in the 1998 World Cup final for France. But the transfer to Real Madrid in 2001 elevated him to one of the greatest.

In Florentino Perez’s first Galacticos era, Zidane was the absolute star. That stayed until his final kick for the club. And that wasn’t really the end for Zidane at Real Madrid.

He came back as a coach to become the first to win three successive Champions League trophies for Real Madrid. 

  1. Raul

1992 – 2010 (741 matches, 323 goals)

Major titles: 3 Champions League, 6 La Liga, 2 Intercontinental Cup

The former Atletico Madrid youth player is a Real Madrid icon. An eternal captain with an exemplary football career, Raul never have been sent off in over 1,000 games for club and country. 

A striker with a hunch for scoring goals in any way possible, Raul left the game as one of the finest we’ve seen in Real Madrid colors. As fate has it, his first goal for the club came in the first derby against former club Atleti at the Bernabeu.

In 1998, the first of his three Champions League triumphs saw Real Madrid beat Juventus in the final staged at Johan Cruyff Arena. While he played behind Fernando Morientes and the matchwinner Predrag Mijatovic that night, El Ferrari soon became the club’s go-to striker.

He scored in both finals when Real Madrid repeated that success in 2000 and 2002. And he currently sits in fifth place in the all-time Champions League goal-scoring chart.

It’s natural to think of Real Madrid first when Raul’s name is mentioned, but he also has a special place for Schalke, where he only had a brief spell and the Spain national team.

He’s back at the club with his managerial career as he currently coaches Real Madrid Castilla, the reserve team he used to play for before he rose to prominence at Bernabeu.

  1. Sergio Ramos

2005 – 2021 (671 matches, 180 goals)

Major titles: 4 Champions League, 5 La Liga, 2 Copa del Rey, 4 Club World Cup

When Sergio Ramos re-signed for his childhood club Sevilla at the start of the season, it was seen as a true homecoming. But it was at the European giants Real Madrid that he had his best playing times.

Out of Real Madrid’s 14 Champions League titles, La Decima has a special place for the fans. Not only the historic 10th, Real Madrid returned to glory with this one after a difficult spell.

And Ramos had a big say on that. He scored a 93rd-minute equalizer to force extra-time in the Madrid derby. Two years after the Lisbon final, he also scored against the same opponent in another Champions League success.

Ramos played for 16 seasons at the club since his unveiling to fans as a 19-year-old kid alongside Florentino Perez and Alfredo Di Stefano. Just like our ranking, he is the fourth-highest all-time appearance maker after Raul, Iker Casillas and Manolo Sanchis.

His versatility saw him become a world-class center-back after playing in a right-back role for the first decade of his career. From posing a threat in set-piece situations to the cheekiest penalty-kicks, he will also be remembered as a goal-scoring defender when he hangs up his boots.And those goals usually came in big games to decide titles for Real Madrid. Ramos was picked in FIFA’s World 11 on 11 occasions, including 10 in a row from 2011 to 2020. With 180 games for Spain, he also held the record for the most international appearances from Real Madrid players.

With 22 trophies for the club – as well as the World Cup and two European Championships with the national team – Ramos is one of the most successful players in Real Madrid’s history.

  1. Iker Casillas

1995 – 2015 (725 matches, 264 clean sheets)

Major titles: 3 Champions League, 5 La Liga, 2 Copa del Rey, 3 Club World Cup, 2 Intercontinental Cups

The best goalkeeper in Real Madrid’s history, it’s a real shame Casillas didn’t have the farewell he deserved when he left the club he joined at the age of 9. His 25 years of commitment to the club returned 19 titles.

Casillas was promoted to Real Madrid’s first team at the age of 18. A year later, he became the youngest goalkeeper in a Champions League final when he played against Valencia four days after his 19th birthday.

While he struggled during the 2001/02 season, he also played a big part in another Champions League final success. And, for his third and Real Madrid’s tenth European glory, he was the captain of the side in 2014.

While Zidane’s memorable goal stood tall in the 2002 Champions League final, it was super-sub Casillas’ performance between the sticks that stopped Bayer Leverkusen as Los Blancos won La Novena, a ninth European Cup.

Casillas only conceded 525 goals in 510 La Liga appearances for Real Madrid. He played 288 more games than the second appearance-maker goalkeeper in Real Madrid’s history, Paco Buyo.

La Fábrica’s graduate, Casillas also had a colorful career with the national team as he won two European Championships and a World Cup as a starting goalkeeper.

He was named the best goalkeeper by FIFA XI and IFFHS on five occasions each. He also received the Community of Madrid’s Gold Medal and many more awards for his unwavering contribution to Europe’s most successful club.

His football career ended on a bleak note as he had to give up following a heart attack suffered in Porto’s training session in May 2019. A year later, he returned to Real Madrid where he reconciled with Florentino Perez as he started his work as a club advisor.

  1. Alfredo di Stefano

1953 – 1964 (396 matches, 308 goals)

Major titles: 5 European Cups, 8 La Liga, Copa del Rey, Intercontinental Cups

Di Stefano was one of the players who could really do it all. A leader both on and off the pitch, he also did everything for his club from defending to scoring goals.

When Real Madrid won an unprecedented five successive European Cups, Di Stefano was the star player. Individually, he won the Ballon d’Or in 1957 and 1959 for his part in Real Madrid’s dominance.

And, in 1989, he was awarded the Super Ballon d’Or ahead of Johan Cruyff and Michael Platini. That was the only special Ballon d’Or that accounted for the careers of the previous three decades.

With River Plate, Di Stefano won the Argentine league as a top-scorer at the tender age of 21. He was also a title winner in Colombia with Millonarios before signing for Real Madrid in 1953.

That was the most colorful chapter of Di Stefano’s playing career. He won 18 trophies in just eleven seasons, leaving the club as an iconic figure and fan favorite. In particular, his European Cup performances leapfrog him into a special status at Real Madrid.

He scored in all five finals as the club dominated European football in the latter half of the 1950s. His performance in the 1960’s final against Eintracht Frankfurt was the perfect closure for this special era for Di Stefano and Real Madrid. 

Di Stefano also made an impact as a coach at Real Madrid with the likes of Emilio Butragueno and Manolo Sanchis emerging into the first team under his guidance. Until his passing in 2014, The Godfather was the honorary president of Real Madrid.

1.Cristiano Ronaldo

2009 – 2018 (438 matches, 451 goals)

Major titles: 4 European Cups, 2 La Liga, 2 Copa del Rey, 3 Club World Cups

When Cristiano Ronaldo completed his long-awaited transfer to Real Madrid, the number he’d take at his new club interested many. But he only had to play with number 9 for a single season.

After Raul’s departure, CR7 managed to write his own story to elevate each legend. It was record after record for the Portuguese superstar at Spain’s capital before his move to Juventus in 2018.

His compatriots Eusebio and Alfredo Di Stefano were the guests when the 2008 Ballon d’Or winner was unveiled at Santiago Bernabeu on 6 July 2009. He averaged over a goal a game as he added four Ballon d’Or, three Golden Shoe and two FIFA’s The Best awards to his name as a Los Blancos player.

Ronaldo left the club as the all-time top-scorer despite playing a lot less compared to the previous record holders. He was the biggest name in their squad in the era they have added four Champions League crowns.

Alongside Gareth Bale – who also joined Real from the Premier League – and Karim Benzema – who later leapfrogged other legends to become the club’s second top-scorer – Cristiano formed a commendable attacking trio named BBC.

But football isn’t only about friendship and linkups within a team. More than the BBC connection, Ronaldo created a special battle with Lionel Messi in his time in Spain. Their rivalry went too far to the point that it eclipsed the historic matchup itself, El Clasico.

In nine seasons at Madrid, CR7 also climbed to the top of the all-time European Cup (Champions League) scoring chart with 105 of his 140 goals coming in this spell. He also broke the record for most goals in a season by a Real Madrid player.

At Real Madrid, he won the Champions League top-scorer cannon on six occasions and three Pichichi awards. As Florentino Perez once labeled him, he’s the true heir to Alfredo Di Stefano. 

About Tony 9 Articles
I'm Tony, a football writer since 2005, from Warrington in the UK. I support Liverpool and have done since I was a kid. I've previously ran other footy sites, and have a love for the game overall (not just LFC). Find out more about me & my background on the about page, linked to in the site's main navigation.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.