There have recently been studies in Spain to rank the best players of all time in La Liga. A number of methods were used such as goals scored, games played, yellow and red cards received, wins and own goals etc. However, the ranking doesn’t really include the human intangibles that players bring to the game such as excitement, drama, and emotion.
The Spanish Primera Division, better known as La Liga, was formed back in 1929 and has seen close to 10,000 players perform in its ranks since then. This list features the 10 best La Liga players of all-time, ranked on their success in the league both on a personal and team level and also includes the emotional impact they had on the fans.
10. Cesar Rodriguez
When it comes to the most goals in La Liga history, we find former Spanish international forward Cesar Rodriguez at number seven on the list. He played from 1939 to 1960 with several clubs, with his best years being 1939 to 1955 at Barcelona. He also played several seasons in the lower divisions later in his career and was the Golden Boot winner in the top tier in 1948/49. Rodriguez netted 223 goals in 353 games for a scoring ratio of .63 goals per game. He scored 232 times in all competitions and was the Barca’s top scorer for several decades until his record was broken. He also helped Barcelona capture five league titles during his career and he retired with a total of 13 winners’ medals from various major competitions.
9. Andres Iniesta
Central midfielder Andres Iniesta is still playing with Barcelona at the age of 33. The Spanish international has been with the club since he was a youngster and debuted with the senior side in 2002 when he was just 18. He’s been one of the most dependable players in Spain and the world over the past decade or so and is the most successful club player in Spanish soccer history with 32 winners’ medals to his name. He’s been in the European Team of the Year half a dozen times and was voted to FIFA’s Best XI another eight times. He’s also won several other individual trophies and accolades for his fine play. You’ll never find Iniesta’s name on any top scoring lists with just 60 goals in close to 700 games, but he’ll go down as one of La Liga’s best ever midfield engines.
8. Francisco Gento
Left-winger Francisco ‘Paco’ Gento was another all-time Spanish great who starred for both club and country. He began his La Liga career with Racing Santander in 1952 and then signed with Real Madrid the next year, staying with the club until 1971. The speedy outside-left was an excellent technical player who excelled in setting up his teammates. However, he also knew where the net was himself with 128 league goals in 428 appearances. Many of his goals came from outside of the box as he was an excellent shooter from distance. Gento helped Real Madrid reach the European Cup Final on eight occasions and won a record six of them. He also helped the Spanish giants capture the La Liga title a dozen times during his career.
7. Laszlo Kubala
Striker Laszlo Kibala was born in Budapest, Hungary, but became a footballing star in La Liga. He kicked off his pro career in 1944 and played with several clubs before signing with Barcelona in 1951. He spent a decade with the famous team before spending two years at Espanyol and then finishing his career in Switzerland and Canada before retiring in 1967. Oddly enough, Kubala also played internationally with Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Spain and Catalonia. He was a tremendous dribbler, free-kick taker and finisher who scored 194 times in 256 games in all competitions for Barcelona. He also managed the side twice after retiring. Kubala helped Barcelona win four La Liga titles in the 1950s, as well as 10 different cup competitions. He was also named as Barcelona’s best player ever in a 1999 poll.
6. Xavi Hernandez
Like his Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez wasn’t known for his goal scoring exploits, but rather for his solid and reliable play in all areas of the pitch. He also joined Barcelona as a youngster before making his senior debut at the start of the 1998-99 campaign. Known to most fans simply as “Xavi,” the former Spanish international midfielder managed to score 85 goals for Barcelona in 767 appearances before leaving to play in Qatar in 2015, where the 37-year-old still plays for Al Sadd SC. Xavi was also a fine playmaker while in La Liga as he set up his teammates for goals on close to 200 occasions. The Spanish legend was named to UEFA’s Team of the Year five times and to the FIFA World XI six times.
5. Telmo Zarra
Telmo Zarra ranks third on the all-time La Liga scoring parade with only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in front of him. The exceptional striker found the back of the net 251 times in 278 games for a goals-per-game ratio of 0.9, which is also one of the best scoring ratios in the league’s history. Zarra’s career kicked off in 1939 with Erandio, but he joined Athletic Bilbao a year later and really started to make a name for himself. He spent 15 years with the club and won the La Liga’s Golden Boot half a dozen times. His 251 league goals were tops in Spain for close to 60 years and he still holds the mark for the most goals in the Copa del Rey with 81 of them. Team-wise, Zarra helped his Athletic Bilbao mates to five Copa del Rey triumphs as well as one La Liga title.
4. Raul Gonzalez
Goalscorer Raul Gonzalez was known by most fans simply as “Raul,” and he turned out to be one of the best finishers in La Liga history. In fact, as of October 1st, 2017, he ranked fifth on the all time list with 228 strikes in 550 matches. He was also quite creative on the pitch for Real Madrid between 1994 and 2010m before playing the last few years of his career in Germany, Qatar, and America. The former Spanish international also scored consistently for his country with 44 goals in 102 appearances. Raul left Madrid as the second-highest scorer in club history with 323 goals under his belt in all competitions. The former skipper also played the most games in the team’s history at 741. He helped the squad win the Champions League three times and the Spanish league on six occasions. In addition, he won an Intercontinental Cup, a UEFA Super Cup, and four Supercopa de Espana championships.
3. Alfredo Di Stefano
A strong argument could be made for naming Alfredo Di Stefano as the best Real Madrid player ever. The club’s fortunes certainly exceeded all expectations once he arrived on the scene and started banging in the goals with amazing consistency. He was one of the world’s most complete players, but best known for his scoring ability for his club and national teams of Colombia, Argentina, and Spain. Di Stefano ranks sixth all-time on the La Liga scoring list with 227 tallies in 329 games for a ratio of .69 goals-per game. Real Madrid captured the European crown five times in a row in the 1950s when Di Stefano was spearheading the attack along with Jose María Zarraga and Francisco Gento. Incredibly, Di Stefano scored in each one of the five cup finals.
2. Lionel Messi
Statistically speaking, Argentine international forward Lionel Messi is regarded as the best La Liga player ever. In fact, he’s definitely in the top two players in the world today and has been for quite some time. He’ll go down in history as an all-time great, but Messi will have to settle for being number two on this list. He’s the only player ever to take home the Ballon d’Or Award five times, and won four of them in a row. When it comes to team trophies, the 30-year-old has helped Barcelona hoist the Champions League trophy four times and the La Liga title on eight occasions since debuting as a 17-year-old. And lets not forget he’s won six Supercopa de Espana crowns, along with five Copa del Reys, three FIFA Club World Cups and three UEFA Super Cups. Messi is La Liga’s all-time leading scorer with 360 goals as of October 1, 2017 and holds the record for 50 in a season.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
For most fans, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are one-two when it comes to the best players in the world. Others may have Messi on top, followed by Ronaldo. But the Portuguese international forward brings an extra dimension to his game, as he’s also one of the best strikers ever in the air while Messi scores the majority of his goals from the ground. Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or Award four times and was the world’s most expensive player at the time in 2009 when Real Madrid bought him from Manchester United. Ronaldo has won two league crowns in Spain along with a pair of Copa del Reys. He’s also helped Madrid capture two Club World Cups along with three UEFA Champions League titles. Ronaldo is the top scorer in Real Madrid history and his 285 La Liga goals in 268 games as of October 1st are second only to Messi. However, Ronaldo scored them at a better ratio as he hit the net 1.06 times per game, which is a La Liga record.