In Cristiano Ronaldo’s amazing quest to smash every single record that any Madrid player has ever achieved, we have been reminded of our illustrious past. As Ronaldo passed the likes of Puskas and Di Stéfano in the goalscoring charts, the old black film rolled through my mind as I saw the Whites lift the European Cup 5 times. When Ronaldo finally passed Raúl against Malmo (or equaled him, depending on whom you believe), I personally took a step back to look at the greats that Ronaldo had pushed himself ahead of. With the discussion of history fresh in my mind (and hopefully in yours), now is as good a time as any to rank Los Blancos’s 10 greatest players of all time.
10. Santillana (1971-1988)
Games Played: 645
Goals Scored: 290
With 290 goals in 645 games, Santillana is a goalscoring legend for Real Madrid. Most known for his incredible leap and heading prowess, he is also famed for his legendary partnership with the comeback king Juanito. Arriving at the Bernabeu at the mere age of 19, Santillana would go on to win 9 La Liga titles, 4 Spanish Cups, 1 League Cup, and 2 UEFA cups. He retired with only Di Stéfano having scored more than him.
9. Emilio Butragueño (1982-1995)
Position: Second Forward
Games Played: 463
Goals Scored: 171
"The Vulture" was one of the most entertaining talents in European footballing history. His famed trickery and ball control was mind-blowing, and in an age where size ruled, he blew past big defenders with ease. Aside from his incredible technical skills and improvisational abilities, he also possessed a lethal touch. Not often the main striker in the squad, he still managed to win the Pichichi trophy and amass more than 150 goals. He also led the famous "Quinta del Buitre" (The Vulture Squadron), which was one of Madrid’s greatest generations of footballers. They consisted of the likes of Míchel, Manolo Sanchís, Martin Vázquez, and Pardeza and helped Butragueño win a truly ridiculous haul of 15 trophies.
8. Raúl (1992-2010)
Games Played: 741
Goals Scored: 323
Coming in at number 8, we have one of the most lethal strikers of all time. Ironically starting his youth career off at Atletico Madrid, Raúl quickly showed his golden touch with 13 goals in 7 games for the 1992/1993 youth team. This caught the eye of Jorge Valdano, who then fast-tracked Raúl to the first team. From there on, Raúl only achieved greatness. He went on to win 6 La Liga titles and an incredible 3 Champions Cups, all the while being Madrid’s captain and top goalscorer. Aside from his obvious instincts, Raúl also possessed an underrated amount of flair and work ethic. While he may not have the same technical abilities as others on this list, he fully deserves his place in the pantheon of Real Madrid legends for his unbelievable eye for goal.
7. Hugo Sánchez (1985-1992)
Games Played: 282
Goals Scored: 208
With an eye-popping goalscoring record, Hugo Sánchez flies into this list at number 7. Like the ones before him, the Mexican possessed an incredibly keen sense of where the back of the net was, and managed to pick up 4 Pichichi trophies (3 of them in a row with Madrid). While this gives you the image of a cold blooded killer that hounds the six yard box, Hugo Sánchez was actually more well known as a flair player. He is probably one of the greatest proponents of the bicycle kick (the chilena as it was called) in footballing history and his vigorous goalscoring celebrations were almost as good as the goals he scored (remind you of someone?). When Hugo Sánchez scored a bicycle kick against Logrones, the then Madrid coach Leo Beenhakker remarked, "when a player scores a goal like that, play should be suspended and a glass of champagne offered to the 80,000 fans that witnessed it." In addition to this, he was also a free kick specialist and used to score diving headers from improbable angles. So basically he was Cristiano Ronaldo 1.0.
6. Iker Casillas (1999-2015)
Games Played: 725
Real Madrid’s official website calls him "the best goalkeeper in our history", and it’s hard to disagree with them. Not only did St. Iker possess lightning reflexes and a one-on-one ability second to none, but he also had the humility, composure, and leadership qualities that have made him Madrid’s best ever captain. The number of trophies he has lifted is too large to count and needs no re-telling. While his spat with Mourinho and his unceremonious departure may weigh on some minds, I think every Madrid fan has a special place in our heart for The Saint.
5. Zinedine Zidane (2001-2006)
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Games Played: 227
Goals Scored: 49
Genius. Magician. Mercurial. These are just some of the words one thinks of when hearing the name Zidane. In fact, one might even say that putting Zidane in the same sentence as those words is a compliment to those adjectives! Such brilliance is not an exaggeration, and he is easily one of world football’s most technically gifted players of all time. He was an absolute delight to watch, as he possessed the world’s best first touch and an uncanny ability to execute "roulettes" (which he popularized). His artistry on the pitch was not just for mere show however, as he scored a brilliant volleyed goal against Bayer Leverkusen to win Real Madrid "La Novena". Now working for Madrid’s Castilla side as a coach, many dream of the day when the French genius can step up and take charge of the first team.
4. Francisco Gento (1953-1971)
Games Played: 602
Goals Scored: 182
Explaining why Gento is on this list really takes only 1 number and two words: 6 European Cups. On the other hand, explaining his brilliance would probably take a whole book. It think it's best to stick to one paragraph.
Francisco Gento is in the debate for being one of the best left-wingers of all time. He had the pace to rival the modern day Ronaldos and Bales, the dribbling ability to put Messi to shame (or so it is claimed), and a crossing accuracy that would make David Beckham’s jaw drop. Known as the "Storm of the Cantabrian", Gento played alongside the likes of Di Stéfano, Raymond Kopa, and Ferenc Puskas to make Real Madrid the greatest team in the 20th century history.
3. Ferenc Puskas (1958-1967)
Games Played: 262
Goals Scored: 242
Arriving as an old (he was 31 years of age when signed) and overweight man from Honved Budapest, fans did not expect great things from the Hungarian. Oh how wrong they were. Not only did he amass one of the greatest goal to game ratios in footballing history, but he also led Madrid to 5 La Ligas and 3 European Cups. His extraordinary eye for goal and ability on the ball has made him a legend for anyone who knows an ounce of Madrid’s history, but he remains strangely an unknown to anyone not a fan of The Whites. While he probably deserves to be talked about in the same breath as Pele and Maradona, he will have to do with being considered as one of the best players in Madrid's history.
2. Alfredo Di Stéfano (1953-1964)
Position: Forward/Attacking Midfielder
Games Played: 396
Goals Scored: 308
For some, the greatest player in Madrid’s history, Alfredo Di Stéfano is the player most responsible for establishing Los Blancos’s connection with the Champions League. Aside from his obvious goalscoring ability and his tendency to score in big games (scored 1 or more goals in every single European Cup Final), what goes most unnoticed is his versatility. Capable of playing in attack, midfield, and defense, Di Stéfano adjusted to whatever his team needed him to be and was the man that made his side tick. He ended his illustrious career with 2 Ballon d’ors, 5 European Cups, and 8 La Liga titles. There will never again be a player like this man and the deserves to be known as one of the greatest footballers of all time.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (2009-Present)
Position: Wide Forward
Games Played: 308
Goals Scored: 323/324
While Ronaldo may not have the sheer number of team accolades as those ranked below him, it is his sheer desire to win, incredible individual ability, and unparalleled goalscoring record (in a time when Madrid were being dominated by Barcelona), that sets him apart. Signed for a then world record 80 million pounds from Manchester United, few could have guessed the monumental impact that he would have. To put it simply, when Ronaldo arrived, Madrid were in shambles. They had failed to be relevant in Europe to the point of embarrassment and had just relinquished the La Liga title to their rivals in Cataluña. With absolutely no stability in teammates and managers (fueled by Florentino Perez’s galactico policy, the tenure of four very different managers, and Mourinho’s antics), Ronaldo went on to put up the most ridiculously consistent numbers in Los Blancos’s history-whilst simultaneously winning titles and keeping us competitive with Barcelona. This one constant (in Ronaldo) has given Madrid a platform to succeed again and has given fans a sense of expectation that would have been unrealistic before he arrived (something grossly underappreciated by fans). It is not an overstatement to say that Ronaldo has made Los Blancos relevant again. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Real Madrid’s greatest ever player: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo Luis de Nazario