Spain legends: The best Spanish players of all time

Not many nations can claim to be more passionate about football than Spain.

The three-time European champions and 2010 World Cup winners lay claim to two of the most iconic club sides in world football – Barcelona and Real Madrid – with Spain a breeding ground for the world’s best talents.

They may have a rich history on the international stage, but La Roja peaked in the 21st century, winning three consecutive major tournaments between 2008 and 2012. During that period, their squad of superstars proved invincible.

Here are Spain’s 25 greatest players ranked, primarily focusing on national team achievements.

Enrique also managed Spain / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

While not blessed to feature in one of Spain’s golden eras, former Barcelona midfielder-cum-forward Luis Enrique was a constant for La Roja throughout the 1990s. He accumulated 62 caps over the years, producing 12 goals over a decade-long stint.

While the Euros and World Cup proved out of Spain’s reach during his international career, Enrique helped his country win gold at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

Gento is a Real Madrid icon / Evening Standard/GettyImages

Despite making 44 appearances for Spain between 1955 and 1969, Paco Gento was surprisingly dropped for the 1964 Euros that La Roja went on to win.

Regardless, he is a legend for both club and country, with the speedy winger once voted the greatest Spanish player of the 20th century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.

Carvajal is a Real Madrid legend / Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/GettyImages

Undoubtedly a Real Madrid legend with six Champions League titles to his name, Dani Carvajal just missed out on the glory of the late 2000s and early 2010s.

He made his debut in 2014 but injuries at major tournaments have limited his impact on the international stage. Still, he is closing in on a half-century of caps and won the 2023 UEFA Nations League with La Roja.

Zamora guarded the Spain goal in the early 20th century / Central Press/GettyImages

Football was a very different game prior to the Second World War, but that doesn’t diminish the legendary status of goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora, who accrued 46 caps for Spain.

The Barcelona-born stopper also featured for the Catalan national team alongside his outings for Spain.

A tribute to the late Amaro / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

A Real Madrid icon, Amancio was a trailblazer for Spain in the 1960s. The winger was a significant part of the nation’s Euro 1964 winners, even making the team of the tournament for his impressive displays.

Such was his quality for club and country in 1964, he finished third in the Ballon d’Or vote, losing out to Denis Law and Spanish teammate Luis Suarez.

The left-back is still going in MLS / BSR Agency/GettyImages

Jordi Alba is one of the great attacking full-backs of the modern era, bombing up and down the left flank in a Spain shirt for well over a decade. While his time with the national team has come to a close, he finished with 93 appearances under his belt.

While the Barca legend was slightly too young to feature at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, he was a crucial member of the Euro 2012-winning squad. He featured in every match at the tournament, netting in the 4-0 final win over Italy.

Camacho was a star for Spain / Getty Images/GettyImages

Alba was an heir to Jose Antonio Camacho’s throne, with the flying left-back racking up 81 appearances for Spain during the 1970s and 80s.

He never notched for La Roja but did come close to claiming silverware in a Spain shirt, losing out to a Michel Platini-inspired France in the Euro 1984 final.

Di Stefano played for Argentina too / STAFF/GettyImages

Alfredo Di Stefano is one of the increasingly rare examples of players who have played for multiple nations, something that was far more common in the 20th century.

The prolific Real Madrid forward made six appearances for the country of his birth Argentina before switching allegiances to Spain. The two-time Ballon d’Or winner produced a remarkable 23 goals in 31 matches for La Roja.

The Real Madrid legend was a clinical provider for country / Getty Images/GettyImages

Real Madrid sharpshooter Emilio Butragueno couldn’t fire Spain to glory on the international stage, but his relentless goalscoring quickly endeared him to the Spanish public.

26 goals in 96 matches makes him Spain’s eighth highest scorer of all time.

Alonso was an underappreciated Spain midfielder / Stewart Kendall/Allstar/GettyImages

An essential part of Spain’s 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 triumphs, former Real Madrid, Liverpool and Bayern Munich midfielder Xabi Alonso deserves extra credit for surviving that horror challenge from Nigel de Jong in the World Cup final.

The holding midfielder was yet another expert passer in the Spain ranks, bolstering a frankly ludicrous midfield with his playmaking efforts.

Zubizaretta in action for La Roja / Ben Radford/GettyImages

Andoni Zubizarreta may never have claimed silverware over the course of his Spain career, but few come close to matching his longevity and reliability for La Roja.

The goalkeeper, who also represented the Basque national team, made 126 appearances for his country, with only five players accumulating more than him over the years.

Fabregas was a member of a legendary midfield / David Ramos/GettyImages

In any other era, Cesc Fabregas would have been Spain’s leading midfielder. The former Arsenal and Chelsea star was a graceful presence in the centre of the pitch, dictating play with his sensational passing range.

Fabregas found himself in and out of the team during Euro 2012 and the 2010 World Cup, but was a more regular starter at Euro 2008. Regardless, he has three major international trophies to his name.

Torres scored the winner in the Euro 2008 final / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

Not many players can say they have scored the winning goal in a European Championship final, but Fernando Torres can after netting the only strike of the game against Germany in the showpiece event in 2008.

He also participated – either from the start or off the bench – in the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 triumphs, finishing his international career with 38 goals in 110 matches. On his day, he was unstoppable.

The Man City icon racked up some impressive tallies / David Ramos/GettyImages

Another Spanish star who has scored in a Euros final, the Manchester City playmaker was not always a starting member of La Roja squads over the years but was always a reliable source of ingenuity.

The fact that only six players have donned a Spain shirt on more occasions than David Silva tells you everything you need to know about the 125-cap maestro.

A rock at the back for Spain / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/GettyImages

One of Spain’s greatest ever defenders – with plenty of competition for that tag – the versatile Fernando Hierro soaked up the adoration of Real Madrid and La Roja fans for many years.

89 caps, 29 goals and 13 years later, Hierro called time on his international career in 2002.

Pique was a constant at the back for Spain / Ian MacNicol/GettyImages

Spain conceded just two goals en route to being crowned world champions in 2010, with Gerard Pique playing every minute of every game. It was a similar story at Euro 2012, where the Barca legend helped Spain keep five clean sheets.

The lanky centre-back was never blessed with speed or great physicality, but not many could surpass his reading of the game from the heart of defence.

Suarez was a trailblazer / Evening Standard/GettyImages

Before there was Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, there was Spain’s Luis Suarez. Both had an enormous impact on Spanish football, but the latter did so on the international stage.

The 1960 Ballon d’Or winner was another member of Spain’s impressive Euro 1964 side, finishing in the team of the tournament.

A prolific forward for Spain / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

Raul remains one of Spain’s most iconic players, with his black curls flowing in the wind as defenders frantically attempted to stop him in his tracks. He bagged 44 goals for La Roja over the course of a decade, making him the country’s second top scorer.

Again, he was an unfortunate star of the late 1990s and early 2000s, meaning he missed out on team glory at international level.

Puyol was a leader at the back / Denis Doyle/GettyImages

A lion at the back for Spain, Carles Puyol was the ultimate leader. A no-nonsense defender with wonderful technical ability, the centre-back was simply a different breed.

The Barca icon won two major tournaments with La Roja, featuring in the team of the tournament at both Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.

Villa is Spain’s record goalscorer / Jasper Juinen/GettyImages

Never the most glamorous forward but often the most effective, David Villa is comfortably Spain’s record goalscorer. The former Barca star netted 59 times for La Roja – 15 more than next best Raul.

The ruthless forward missed Euro 2012 with injury but more than made up for it with nine goals across Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup – winning the Golden Boot at the former.

Busquets was a crucial member of that famous midfield / Jean Catuffe/GettyImages

An under-appreciated member of Spain’s fabled midfield trio, complementing the wonderful Xavi and Andres Iniesta perfectly, Sergio Busquets is a truly unique footballer.

6’2 with a slender frame, Busquets isn’t built like a traditional defensive midfielder, but his sharp tackling, long legs and wonderful technique made him essential to La Roja during their glory years.

Strikers hated facing Sergio Ramos for Spain / Anadolu/GettyImages

Spain’s leading appearance maker with an astonishing 180 caps over a 16-year spell, Sergio Ramos’ play style may not have been everybody’s cup of tea but was a remarkable leader at the back.

The tough-tackling former Real Madrid superstar also managed 23 goals for Spain and was present for all three 21st century triumphs at major tournaments. What a player.

Casillas is one of the best goalkeepers ever / Simon M Bruty/GettyImages

Iker Casillas is not only Spain’s greatest goalkeeper, but one of the most well-rounded stoppers to have ever graced a football pitch. Nicknamed ‘Saint Iker’ for his remarkable reflexes, only Ramos can better his 167 Spain appearances.

Unbelievably, he conceded just 93 goals over a 16-year international career, being named in the team of the tournament for Euro 2008 and 2012, as well as the World Cup triumph in South Africa.

Xavi was the pass master / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

The metronome in Spain’s fabled midfield, Xavi was at the heart of La Roja’s success on the big stage. He claimed the accolade of Euro 2008’s best player, while also producing two assists in the final of the tournament four years later.

He was essential to Spain’s tiki-taka style under Vicente del Bosque, orchestrating play from deep and suffocating the opposition with a range of accurate passes.

Andres Iniesta’s World Cup-winning goal / Jamie McDonald/GettyImages

Spain’s greatest glory was forged by Andres Iniesta’s right boot. With the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands goalless after 116 minutes, the diminutive Spaniard fired home from close range to crown La Roja as world champions.

However, this was just the icing on the cake for Spain’s greatest ever product, with Iniesta already a hero for both Barca and La Roja. A stunning footballer, his connection with Xavi and Busquets made him truly unstoppable.

READ MORE ON THE BEST 25 PLAYERS FOR EVERY POSITION IN WORLD FOOTBALL

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