5 Greatest Spanish Players of All Time

Nick DorringtonSpecial to Bleacher ReportMarch 14, 2014

5 Greatest Spanish Players of All Time

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    Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press

    Spain have undoubtedly been the most successful national team of recent times, with victories in the 2010 World Cup and the European Championships of 2008 and 2012 solidifying their status as the team to beat on the international stage.

    Yet while the current generation have certainly amassed more trophies than generations past, Spain has a proud history of producing quality players, some of whom played important roles in the most successful club sides of the 20th century.

    Here, in no particular order, are the five greatest Spanish players of all time.

Ricardo Zamora

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    Len Putnam/Associated Press

    A trend-setter in his cloth cap and white polo-neck, Zamora was the first star of the Spanish national team and a fearsome opponent for the strikers of the 1920s and '30s. As Uruguayan wordsmith Eduardo Galeano wrote in his book: "If they looked his way they were lost: With Zamora in the goal, the net would shrink and the posts would lose themselves in the distance."

    Zamora played with distinction for Espanyol, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Nice. He was also the man between the sticks when the nascent Spanish national team won silver at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp and again when they became the first team from outside the British Isles to defeat England in 1929. All told, he won 46 caps, including three at Spain's first World Cup appearance in 1934.

    El Divino (the Divine One) was a huge influence on the generations that followed him and even today, the yearly award for the goalkeeper with the best goals conceded-to-games ratio in La Liga is named in his honour.

Francisco Gento

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    No player in the history of the game has appeared in or won more European Cup finals than Francisco Gento. He joined Real Madrid from Racing Santander in 1953 and was part of the most successful period in the history of the club, winning six European Cups and 12 Spanish league titles in an 18-year stay.

    A speedy, skilful left-winger, he starred first alongside Alfredo Di Stefano in the side that won five consecutive European Cups between 1956 and 1960 and later as the captain of the Ye-ye side (featuring the likes of Amancio Amaro, Manuel Sanchis and Pirri) that won five successive league titles and a further European Cup.

    Gento played for the Spanish national team on 43 occasions, including appearances at the World Cups of 1962 and 1966. He was involved in the qualification process for the 1964 European Championships, scoring against Northern Ireland in Belfast, but he did not appear in the finals.

Luis Suarez

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    Spain's only ever winner of the Ballon d'Or, Luis Suarez is undoubtedly one of the finest players the country has ever produced.

    A graceful creative midfielder who first made his name as an inside forward in the great Barcelona team of the 1950s, he became the most expensive player in the world when he followed his coach, Helenio Herrera, to Inter Milan in 1961.

    There his acute vision and excellent range of passing was utilised to the full in a deeper midfield position. He was the architect behind Internazionale's European Cup wins of 1964 and 1965 and added three league titles to the two he had previously accumulated at Barcelona.

    For Spain, Suarez played a key role in the country's first major international honour, appearing throughout the qualification process for the 1964 European Championships and in matches of the tournament itself, including the victory over the Soviet Union in the final. In all, he appeared 32 times for the national team, scoring 14 goals.

Iker Casillas

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    As Spain's all-time appearance record holder (153 caps) and starting goalkeeper and captain for all three of their recent tournament successes, Iker Casillas can certainly stake a claim to being one of the best Spanish players of all time.

    Casillas made his debut for Real Madrid at the age of 18 and was a two-time Champions League winner by 21. Quick and agile, he rapidly made his name as a supreme shot-stopper, memorably making a string of excellent saves in Madrid's 2002 Champions League victory over Bayer Leverkusen.

    Spain's first-choice for over a decade, he has not always been called into regular action but has made vital saves at key points in their successful tournament campaigns. He made penalty shootout-winning saves against Italy in 2008 and Portugal in 2012 and two crucial saves against the Netherlands in the final of the 2010 World Cup.

Xavi Hernandez

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    Gero Breloer/Associated Press

    The metronome of the tiki-taka of a highly successful Barcelona side and the Spanish national team, Xavi Hernandez has won more trophies than any other Spanish player in history.

    Blessed with excellent touch, awareness and vision, Xavi acts as an on-field coach, controlling the tempo of play. Pep Guardiola called him "the brain behind Barcelona," according to Fox Sports. In 2012, Marca reported that current Spain boss Vicente del Bosque described him as "very important, more so than the coach."

    In addition to his three Champions League triumphs and seven league titles with Barcelona, Xavi has been a regular starter in all three of Spain's recent tournament triumphs. At the time of writing he has appeared for Spain on 130 occasions and will again have a part to play at this summer's World Cup.

    Technically brilliant, successful and a model professional, Spain has produced few players to rival Xavi Hernandez.