La Liga has been home to some of the greatest talents in football history. The league which has produced the most number of Ballon d’Or winners has had some amazing players grace the Spanish game.Unsurprisingly, the two most successful sides in the history of the League, Real Madrid and Barcelona have the most number of players in this team.
Picking the best XI out of the plethora of talent to have played in La Liga is no easy task. Even some multiple Ballon d’ Or winners fail to make the team with some missing out on even the bench. Without much ado, let us look at the greatest La Liga XI of all time:
Iker Casillas – Goalkeeper
Iker Casillas or ‘San Iker’ as he is popularly known is one of the greatest ever goalkeepers of our generation. Although Casillas had a few unsure moments towards the end of his career at Real Madrid, football aficionados will remember the time when scoring against Casillas was almost an impossible task.
One of the select group of players who has won everything in the club and country level, Casillas won the IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper Award an incredible 5 consecutive times. His records in La Liga are incredible:
Casillas made an astonishing 510 appearances in the league for Los Blancos winning the La Liga title 5 times in his august career. In his prime, he was an athletic keeper, known in particular for his outstanding speed, agility, reflexes, consistency and shot-stopping, as well as his positioning, concentration, penalty-saving and leadership.
Although there have been some great goalkeepers in La Liga history like Ricardo Zamora, Victor Valdes and Canizares, none of them have been able to show as much consistency, longevity and excellence as that of Iker Casillas.
Quite simply, Casillas is the greatest goalkeeper in La Liga history.
Roberto Carlos – Left Back
Was there any doubt as to who would take the left-back position? Roberto Carlos was easily one of the greatest Brazilian footballers of all time. Blessed with a thunderous left foot, unbelievable stamina and an eye for scoring spectacular goals, Roberto Carlos’ performances were so good for Real Madrid that he even almost won the World Player of the year award in 1997 and 2002 finishing second behind his countryman Ronaldo on both occasions.
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During his 11 seasons with Madrid, he appeared in 584 matches in all competitions, scoring 71 goals. The Brazilian also holds the record for most appearances by a non Spaniard for Real Madrid having made 370 appearances in the La Liga.
Roberto Carlos along with Paolo Maldini were considered to be the greatest left-backs of our generation. The Brazilian won a host of trophies during his 11 year spell with the All Whites, including an impressive 5 La Liga titles.
Carles Puyol – Centre Back
Former Barcelona captain, Carles Puyol makes the team as one of the two centre-backs at the heart of the defence. A firm fan favourite for his fighting displays, Puyol always gave more than a 100% every time he played for Barcelona and Spain.
Regarded as one of the best defenders of his generation, Puyol was known for his commanding presence in the air, his composure on the ball and his intense commitment and ruggedness. According to Barcelona's head doctor, he was "the strongest, who has the quickest reactions, and who has the most explosive strength."
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A true leader and a motivator, Puyol was one of those players who worked unbelievably hard to make the most of his talents. Puyol himself modestly said:
"I don't have Romario’s technique, [Marc] Overmars' pace or [Patrick] Kluivert's strength. But I work harder than the others. I'm like the student who is not as clever, but revises for his exams and does OK in the end."
With 392 League appearances and 6 La Liga titles in his stellar career, Puyol certainly did better than OK in the end.
Ronald Koeman – Centre Back
One of the best ball playing defenders in the history of the game, Ronald Koeman was an integral part of Johan Cruyff’s ‘dream team’ in the 1990s. The former Barcelona defender who was also capable of playing as a sweeper was well known for his ability to play long passes and his powerful shooting.
A player who truly epitomised the total football style of Cruyff, Koeman was a pioneer in the ‘attacking’ centre-back role. The legendary Dutchman had an incredible 6 seasons at Barcelona, where he won the La Liga four times in a row between 1990 and 1994.
Koeman was also known for his immaculate set-piece abilities and his incredible free-kick in the 5-0 El Clasico win against Real Madrid in the La Liga is still spoken about fondly by the Blaugrana faithful.
A centre-back pairing of Puyol and Koeman would provide just the right mix of solidity and flair to the backline of this incredible XI.
Dani Alves – Right Back
Very few, if any, can match the Brazilian’s athleticism down the right-hand flank. The 33-year-old has arguably championed his position, often dubbed as one of the finest full-backs the game has ever seen.
Look past his comical appearances off the pitch and Alves is an intimidating force that can tie down agile wide men, meanwhile tormenting his opposing number with marauding runs and a fiery right boot. The defender saw the rise and end of the Guardiola empire and was one of the most consistent performers during the spell.
One of the most decorated players in the world, the Brazilian formed an intimidating partnership with Lionel Messi on the right-hand flank and during his 9 year spell at Barcelona, Alves won an incredible 6 La Liga titles.
The Brazilian full-back combination of Roberto Carlos and Dani Alves would definitely keep the opposition defence occupied all the time.
Xavi – Centre Midfield
Considered by many to be the greatest Spanish player ever, Xavi Hernandez is truly one of the best midfielders to ever play the game.
Having won all the major trophies club and international competition has to offer, Xavi has carved a unique place for himself in the pantheon of footballing greats. The Spaniard’s vision, pinpoint accurate passing and world class ball control allowed him to dictate the flow of play while rarely relinquishing possession.
His ability to control some matches has earned him the sobriquet, "The Puppet Master". The Barcelona legend was also known for his amazing positioning and ability to pick out the right pass every time which made him integral to both Barcelona and the Spanish national side.
Pulling the strings in midfield, Xavi was the lynchpin in Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona team and Spain’s World Cup and two-time Euro winning squad. Having made more than 180 assists in his stellar career, Xavi is definitely one of football’s all-time greats.
The legendary midfielder won 8 La Liga titles during his incredible career at Barcelona.
Andres Iniesta – Centre Midfield
A true gem in the crown of the Barcelona midfield, Iniesta almost has a telepathic understanding of his team mates’ positions. Always setting up goals or scoring crucial ones, Iniesta is truly a big match player having put in his best performances when the team needs him the most.
Iniesta relies on exceptional creative passing, intuition and inventiveness to control the midfield and dictate the ebb and flow of play. He has won 29 trophies in his stellar career making him the most successful and decorated Spanish player of all time.
The Spaniard is only one of three Barcelona players to receive a standing ovation at the Bernabeu showing how appreciated his unique qualities are. A wonderful dribbler and an excellent passer, Iniesta is one of the best midfielders to have ever played the beautiful game.
Alfredo Di Stefano – Attacking Midfielder
Undoubtedly the player who redefined Real Madrid’s legacy as one of the greatest club teams in the world, Di Stefano is arguably the best Real Madrid player of all time.
Not many people know that Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano had initially signed for Barcelona in the year 1953 after a dispute over his signature with Real. The Spanish federation came up with a ludicrous solution where Di Stefano would play alternate seasons at both clubs, however, Barcelona withdrew from the agreement in protest leaving Di Stefano free to sign for their great rivals Real Madrid.
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Although his move might be controversial, there is no denying the huge impact he had during his time at Los Blancos. Di Stefano scored an incredible 307 goals in 396 appearances and won an amazing amount of trophies. Di Stefano is also the only player to score in 5 European Cup finals.
8 La Liga titles, 5 European Cups, 1 Copa Del Rey and 1 Intercontinental cup won during Di Stefano’s time show what a huge impact the Argentine had. The legendary Argentine is even considered by some people to be the greatest footballer of all time.
Lionel Messi – Right Forward
The only footballer ever to win the Ballon d’Or six times, Lionel Messi is an absolute phenomenon. The diminutive Argentine has been Barcelona’s main man since 2008 and has put in some spell bounding performances for Barcelona in the last decade.
Blessed with stunning technical ability, Messi’s pace and dribbling skills have seen him score many wonderful solo attacking goals. Tactically, the Argentine is capable of playing as a false 9 or as a winger, scoring and assisting goals with equal ease
The Argentine’s numbers at Barcelona are simply incredible. In 731 matches, Messi has scored 634 goals and won an astonishing 10 La Liga titles with the Catalan side.
Although Ronaldinho and Real Madrid legend Gento came very close to making this team, there was no competing with the phenomenon that is Lionel Messi, and he takes the Right Forward slot in this team.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Left Forward
One of the two stand out footballers of this generation along with Lionel Messi, Ronaldo is one of the greatest players ever to play the beautiful game. Arguably the greatest goal scorer of this generation, Ronaldo has time and again proved as to why he is one of the best in the world.
Ever since his move to Real Madrid, his goalscoring exploits have been simply mind boggling. In 438 appearances, Ronaldo has scored an astonishing 450 goals and has been at the forefront of Real Madrid’s Champions League as well as La Liga triumphs in the last decade
Ronaldo is known to be mentally sharp, with good vision and positioning, often predicting certain plays. He also possesses quick reactions, balance, and agility. Having a burning desire to be the best, Ronaldo has worked hard to hone his undoubtedly prodigious talent and become one of the greatest players ever to grace this game.
Although the Portuguese legend has won only two La Liga titles, the fact that he has numerous goalscoring records in such a short time in La Liga merits his inclusion in this team.
Ferenc Puskas – Striker
Blessed with a thunderous left foot and superb positioning skills, Ferenc Puskas is easily one of the greatest players to ever play the game. He was the lynchpin of the all-conquering “Magical Magyars” and led the Hungary team to unprecedented success.
During the second half of his career, Puskas formed a deadly combination with the great Alfredo Di Stefano during his stint at Real Madrid as they the duo tore up defences and guided the Los Blancos to five straight league titles and three European Cups.
The legendary Hungarian striker was La Liga’s top scorer for 4 seasons in a row. His phenomenal goal scoring prowess can be seen from the fact that he scored an astonishing 374 goals in 358 appearances for Real Madrid having an even greater goal-scoring ratio than Cristiano Ronaldo!
Although our 11 has now ended, we look at the star-studded bench and the manager for this incredible team in the next slide.
Manager and Substitutes
The obvious choice for the manager position is the late, great Johan Cruyff. The Dutch maestro revolutionised the way football was played in Spain and his Barcelona dream-team were arguably the most dominant team in La Liga history.
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Even choosing the substitutes for this legendary team is no easy task. The likes of Zidane, Ronaldinho, Figo, Guti, Raul, Pep Guardiola, Diego Godin, Sergio Ramos, Pique and heck even Diego Maradona have all played in the Spanish League. However, We attempt to pick the best 7 substitutes:
GK – Ricardo Zamora (legendary Barcelona keeper from the 1940s)
CB/RB – Sergio Ramos
CAM – Zidane
CDM/CM – Pep Guardiola
CAM/ Forward – Ronaldinho
RW – Gento
Striker – Ronaldo Nazario (Brazil)
Do you agree with our greatest La Liga XI? Let us know