There was a time when records in La Liga stood for aeons thanks to the exploits of legends in the mid 20th century. The Spanish league took its time to gain prominence, but once it was established, it took Europe by storm, and there have been numerous eras of dominance.
It is no wonder then that Spanish clubs have won the Champions League a record 16 times and also finished as runners-up 11 times.
Along the way, several different players have attempted to break the record for most goals scored in La Liga, and it was a record that looked like it was going to stand the test of time before serial Ballon d’Or winners Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo changed football in Spain forever.
We look at the top 10 goalscorers of all time in La Liga.
Note: All stats are from UEFA and up to date as of 19th April 2020.
10. Edmundo Suárez – 195 goals
No. 10 in our list of La Liga all-time top scorers is Edmundo Suarez. Affectionately called Mundo, Edmundo Suarez was a Valencia legend who defined the role of the physical centre-forward. However, the world was deprived of the opportunity to watch him in his prime thanks to the Spanish Civil War.
Formerly a player for Athletic Bilbao, his contract was considered null and void by General Franco’s regime, and he eventually made a move to Valencia where he would play for the next 11 years. It was there he scored at the rate of almost one goal per game (0.91), winning the Pichichi award for top goalscorer of the season in consecutive years.
He would lead Los Che to three La Liga and two Copa del Rey titles, before leaving the club to join CD Alcoyano for a solitary season. Suarez was one of Spain’s best players at the time and the fact that most countries refused to play them at the time saw his international exposure limited to just three matches for La Roja.
9. Pahiño – 210 goals
Despite playing a couple of seasons in Spain's Segunda Division, Manuel Fernández Fernández (aka Pahiño) still managed to score enough goals to make the top 10. 12 seasons in La Liga’s top-flight saw him represent Celta Vigo, Real Madrid and Deportivo before finishing his career at Granada in the second division.
In the 11 consecutive seasons he played in the top flight, he averaged just over 21 goals a season. Pahino never scored less than 14 in a season and recorded 35 goals for Los Blancos in the 1951/52 season.
Pahiño was another physical striker who could shoot well with both feet. He was also strong in the air and a committed player. He also won the Pichichi twice – once each with Celta Vigo and Real Madrid. It was only the arrival of Alfredo Di Stefano that saw him lose his stature in the side.
Legend has it that he once played a game despite fracturing his fibula (calf bone) in the 40th minute. The Cleta coach at the time, Moncho Encinas, simply bandaged it up and persuaded him to play the rest of the game. Celta Vigo won 4-1 and reports claim that by the end of the game, the fibula touched the sole of his foot!
8. Quini – 219 goals
No. 8 in our list of La Liga all-time top scorers is Enrique Castro González (aka Quini), who has won the Pichichi award five times in La Liga – thrice with Sporting Gijon and twice with Barcelona. However, it was at Gijon that he made a name for himself and established himself as one of Spain’s greatest strikers of his era.
At Gijon, he always managed to score 10+ goals every season, even winning the Don Balón Award for the best Spanish player in 1978/79. But it wasn’t until his move to Barcelona that he started winning trophies. He managed to win two Copa del Rey titles and a UEFA Cup Winners Cup with the Blaugrana. Despite joining them at the age of 31, he sill scored goals for fun in his first two seasons.
Quini almost won the La Liga title once with Barcelona, but he was kidnapped and held for 25 days during a crucial period in the title race where Barca only managed to get a single point in four games. He was released unharmed soon after they were out of the title race, though.
7. César Rodríguez Álvarez – 223 goals
No. 7 in our list of La Liga all-time top scorers is Cesar, whose career spanned 19 years of which he spent 13 seasons at Barcelona. Although he won the Pichichi only once in his career, he was still the club's top goalscorer for several decades.
Despite signing for Barcelona, he was forced to go out on loan to Granada when he was deployed in Andalusia for his military service. But when he returned, there was no looking back. He scored in double digits in 11 seasons at Barca and won five La Liga titles in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s.
He was part of the team that also had the likes of László Kubala in the lineup. Following his move to Cultural Deportiva Leonesa, he would subsequently never play in the Spanish top-flight again. When he retired, he was fourth on the list of La Liga’s top goalscorers.
6. Alfredo Di Stéfano – 227 goals
When conversations revolve around the greatest players of all time, Alfredo Di Stefano is mentioned in the same breath as others such as Pele and compatriot Diego Maradona (although he did also play for Colombia and Spain). It was his arrival in Madrid that kickstarted an era of dominance in Spain and Europe.
When the European Cup came into being, Di Stefano led Real Madrid to the first five European titles between 1955/56 and 1959/60, scoring goals in each final (seven in all). He also has eight league titles under his belt and won the Pichichi trophy five times.
Averaging almost 28 goals a season, Di Stefano was a forward to be feared and arguably one of the most complete footballers of all time. However, he almost played for Barcelona when he first moved to Spain. It was only after the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) stepped in to claim that his transfer was not legal that Real Madrid stepped into the picture.
Conspiracy theorists even claimed General Franco had interfered to get Di Stefano to Madrid but remain unsubstantiated to the day.
5. Raúl González – 228 goals
It is safe to say that Real Madrid’s signings of Atletico Madrid youth prospect Raul was one of the biggest coups in modern-day La Liga. Born and raised in Madrid, the closing of the cash-strapped Atletico academy saw him switch the red-and-white for a Blancos shirt and he would then start a journey that would seal his legendary status in Spain.
In 16 seasons at Real Madrid, Raul won six La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies. Along the way, he also set the record for most appearances in a Madrid shirt with 741 games (550 in La Liga – another club record).
Wearing his iconic no.7 jersey, Raul could lead the line or play as a support striker. Nicknamed El Ferrari for his elegance and grace on the pitch, Raul also never received a red card in his career, wearing the captain’s armband with pride for seven seasons until his departure to Schalke in 2010.
4. Hugo Sánchez – 234 goals
Hugo Sanchez is one of Mexico’s greatest ever players and played most of his career at Atletico Madrid and cross-town rivals Real Madrid. He won five Pichichi trophies between 1985 and 1990 and won the Don Balon Award for La Liga’s Best Foreign Player twice.
An athletic centre-forward with a keen eye for goal, his gymnastic training allowed him to execute flashy moves on the pitch and was an expert with the bicycle kick. Even his goal celebrations involved a somersault and a fist pump dedicated to his sister who took part in the 1976 Olympics.
According to FIFA, Sanchez is also the pioneer of the ‘Scorpion Kick’, practising the move several times in training. However, he never got the chance to execute the move in an official match.
3. Telmo Zarra – 251 goals
Once the highest goalscorer in La Liga for 59 years, Telmo Zarra may have lost out on top spot in recent years. However, he still has the record for most Pichichi awards in La Liga with six wins between 1944/45 and 1952/53.
Although he won five Copa del Rey titles with the club, he won the league only once in 1943.
He may have scored more goals had he not been asked to join military service for a while in the 1941/42 season. However, his accomplishments have not gone unnoticed and the trophy for Spanish players with the highest goal total in La Liga every season was named the Zarra Trophy, awarded for the first time in 2006 to David Villa.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo – 311 goals
The Portuguese forward had already cemented his place among some of the greats when he established himself at Manchester United before his then-world-record move to Real Madrid in 2009. And once he donned the pristine white shirt, he has never looked back.
Shattering records left, right and centre, Ronaldo is the only player in the top 10 who has scored at a rate of more than one goal per game. Raul was Real Madrid’s top goalscorer for a while, and Ronaldo eclipsed the record in half the number of games.
Ronaldo has won the Pichichi award three times in La Liga in what has become a stiff competition with Lionel Messi and, more recently, Luis Suarez. Real Madrid’s obsession with winning their 10th Champions League crown convinced them to spend £80m, and it came to fruition when he won them a staggering four titles in his time in the Spanish capital.
After a sensational spell in Spain, Ronaldo moved to Juventus in the summer of 2019 with 311 la Liga goals to his game. In Turin, the Portuguese legend has continued to rack up the goals, as he looks leave a lasting impression in Italy.
1. Lionel Messi – 438* goals
Lionel Messi’s record may stand the test of time after he eventually hangs up his boots. His cloest competition, Cristiano Ronaldo, is currently plying his trade with Juventus and Messi has no signs of slowing down.
Easily the most gifted footballer of the generation, Messi has won 10 La Liga and four Champions League titles in his time with the Blaugrana.
It was Pep Guardiola who transformed him into a beast in the false nine role when Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid 6-2. Ever since then, Messi has set one record after another that the sport can now be split into two distinct eras – before Messi and after Messi.
He may not finish his career as the highest goalscorer of all time, but he will go down as one of the best to grace the field.
Published 18 Feb 2017, 17:24 IST