One of the most successful national teams of this generation, Spain has had plenty of gifted footballers who have dazzled the world with their footballing skills. Unsurprisingly, most of the footballers on this list are from the 2008-2012 golden era.
That particular Spain team is considered by many to be one of the greatest teams to have ever played the beautiful game. However, before 2008, while Spain struggled for international success, there were some immensely talented footballers who had wonderful careers.
In this article, we rank the 10 greatest Spanish footballers of all time:
#10 Francisco Gento
The only player in the history of the game to win six European cups, Francisco Gento was a pacy winger who was an integral part of the most successful team in Real Madrid’s history. While Gento is most known for his time at the La Liga giants, he also had a very successful spell with the Spanish national team winning 43 caps and representing them in the 1962 and 1966 World Cups.
Gento was known for his remarkable pace and is considered by many to be the fastest player to ever play. At his peak, Gento was clocked to have run 100 metres in 10.9 seconds with the ball.
Gento was a very smart player who always managed to beat the offside trap. Because of his phenomenal pace, he almost always got the ball first, and ran through to put a team-mate in on goal or score himself.
A true legend of the game, Gento’s pace caused opposition defences plenty of problems and his marauding runs on the flanks are still remembered fondly by the Real Madrid and La Roja faithful.
#9 Fernando Hierro
One of the most versatile defenders in the history of the game, Fernando Hierro had the rare ability to combine solid defensive play with a near unlimited passing range. Supremely skilled on the ball, the Real Madrid and Spain legend surprisingly contributed heavily on the offensive end of the pitch as well.
Capped 89 times for Spain, Hierro scored a remarkable 29 goals and is still the fourth highest goalscorer in the history of Spanish football only behind the strike trio of David Villa, Fernando Torres and Raul Gonzalez.
Hierro’s most important contribution to the Spanish national team was probably in the 1994 World Cup qualification game against Denmark when he headed the La Roja into the World Cup.
One of the most important players in Spain’s history, Fernando Hierro is one of the best defenders to put on a La Roja shirt.
#8 Raul Gonzalez
A prolific goalscorer and a highly creative forward, Raul is regarded as one of the greatest and most consistent strikers of his generation. Raul was a quick, left-footed player, who was capable of scoring both in and outside the penalty area with his accurate and powerful shot.
In addition to these characteristics, Raul is remembered for his leadership and discipline; throughout his extensive career, he never received a red card, and he was rarely booked. For his technical skills, elegance and performances, he was nicknamed "El Ferrari," or "The Ferrari," by Fernando Hierro.
The Spanish legend won more than 100 caps for Spain and scored 43 goals. He is Spain’s second highest goalscorer of all time, just behind David Villa. One of the longest serving leaders of the national team, Raul Gonzales will consider himself really unlucky to miss out on trophies with the Spain national team.
#7 Carles Puyol
Probably Barcelona’s greatest leader, Carles Puyol definitely deserves a place on this list. 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.
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."
A Euro and a World Cup winner, Puyol definitely did more than OK in the end.
#6 Luis Suarez (1960s)
One of the best players to have ever played the game, Luis Suarez was an elegant player who dictated and controlled proceedings as a central midfielder for Barcelona, Inter Milan and the Spanish national team. The Spaniard was the first Spanish player to win the Ballon d’Or and he was widely considered to be the best Spanish player in the 1960s.
Nicknamed El Arquitecto (The Architect) he was noted for his perceptive passing and explosive shot. He also had a keen eye for goal and was an integral part of the 1964 Euro winning Spanish squad.
Winner of the Ballon d’Or in 1960, Suarez was the first truly global Spanish superstar and made the World Soccer XI team three times in a row (1963, 1964, 1965). A Barcelona legend, Suarez made a move to Inter Milan in 1961 which made him the world’s most expensive footballer at the time.
The best player in Spain’s first team to win a major international trophy, Luis Suarez is undoubtedly one of the greatest Spanish footballers of all time.
#5 Iker Casillas
Iker Casillas or ‘San Iker’ as he is popularly known is one of the greatest ever goalkeepers of our generation. Although Casillas has seen his powers wane in the last two seasons, football aficionados will remember the time when scoring against Casillas was almost an impossible task.
In his prime, the Real Madrid legend was known for his athletic ability, shot-stopping skills, as well as his positioning, concentration, penalty-saving and leadership. Captain of Spain’s most successful era, Iker Casillas pulled off stunning saves time and again in the Euros and World Cup ensuring that the La Roja created history by becoming the first team to win two Euros and a World Cup back-to-back.
Equally successful with both club and country, the current Porto goalkeeper is definitely the greatest captain in Spanish football history.
#4 David Villa
The driving force behind Spain's incredible 2010 World Cup win, David Villa is undoubtedly Spain's greatest striker of all time. El Guaje (”the little kid”) as he is popularly known is Spain’s leading goal scorer having scored 59 goals in 97 games.
Despite his lack of height or physicality, The former Barcelona man has been a prolific goalscorer for both club and country. A quick, mobile and agile player, Villa is capable of creating something out of nothing and was the silver boot winner in Spain’s historic 2010 World Cup triumph.
Villa along with Fernando Torres created havoc among opposition defences and formed one of the potent strike partnerships in international football. One of the best strikers of our generation, David Villa will forever be remembered for his starring role in Spain's inaugural World Cup triumph.
#3 Xabi Alonso
One of the best defensive midfielders to ever play the game, Xabi Alonso has been successful wherever he has played, be it in the Premier League with Liverpool, or the La Liga with Real Madrid or the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich or the Spanish national team.
A complete, consistent, hardworking and versatile midfielder, Alonso is capable of contributing both defensively and offensively. Although primarily a defensive midfielder, Xabi Alonso has scored plenty of crucial goals for the La Roja from free-kicks and penalties.
His importance to the Spanish national team can be seen by Vicente Del Bosque’s comments when the Bayern Munich midfielder announced his retirement from international football in 2014:
“It’s very difficult to surpass what he’s achieved. He leaves us with a fantastic legacy, along with his other team-mates. He has been a great professional. The coaching team and I have the highest esteem for Xabi. I can only say that his comportment with us all this time, has been impeccable.”
Considered by many to be the greatest Spanish player ever, Xavi Hernandez is truly one of the best midfielders to ever play the game. Along with Iniesta, Xavi formed the backbone of Spain’s most glorious era from 2008-2012.
Xavi'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". His amazing positioning and ability to pick out the right pass every time made him integral to both Barcelona and the Spanish national side.
Pulling the strings in midfield, Xavi was the lynchpin of Vicente Del Bosque’s all-conquering side. His assist for Fernando Torres’ goal in the Euro 2008 final kicked off the era of dominance and Xavi will forever be remembered as one of the best midfielders to ever play the game.
#1 Andres Iniesta
Andres Iniesta is one of the most under-rated players in the history of the game. Probably the greatest central midfielder of all time, Iniesta’s influence in Barcelona’s and Spain’s major triumphs cannot be discounted. Two Euros with Spain, A World Cup triumph, 4 Champions League titles and countless other trophies make Iniesta one of the most decorated players of all times.
The impact of Andres Iniesta can be seen from the fact that he is the only player in history to have been the Man of the Match in the final of the World Cup, European Championship and the Champions League.
Also read: 10 greatest football teams of all time
Iniesta gave Spain its greatest moment in football when he scored the decisive goal against Netherlands well into extra time. He was also named in the team of the tournament in Spain’s Euro 2008 triumph, 2010 World Cup triumph and he won the Golden Ball for his efforts in the 2012 Euros.
The Spanish playmaker will forever be remembered for winning Spain the World Cup in 2010.