The Spanish national side is as famous for underachievement as anything else. They have consistently failed to live up to the expectation created by the prestige of Spain's club sides and the nation's frequent ease of qualification.
Failure to perform on the big stage does not mean Spain have been lacking for individual talent, however. There is a long history of great Spanish players with distinguished careers. The fact that they have played alongside and against some of the world's best foreigners in La Liga and excelled is testament to their greatness.
Many have played for Barcelona or Madrid, which is unsurprising given how great players gravitate to the two poles of Spanish football.
Narrowing down 100 years of history to 10 players is never easy, but using a combination of domestic and international accomplishments as well as historical importance, this list was formed.
The following is not definitive but is the result of exhausting research and reflection. Enjoy!
José Antonio Camacho is a legend for Real Madrid and Spain. In his 15 years at the club from the capital, he won the Spanish league nine times, the UEFA cup twice, and the Copa del Rey five times.
A defender's defender, Camacho rarely scored a goal. He was hard as nails and was rarely beaten. He was so good at man marking that he rarely had to commit a foul. In his 15 years as a professional he received only one red card.
He may not have been a flair player, but his never-ending stamina and pace helped him torment right-sided midfielders and defenders alike. He was good enough with the ball that marauding runs down the flank were a regular sight for club and country. Unlike many attacking fullbacks, he never let his defensive duties suffer for his advances.
He suffered bitter disappointments in losses to Liverpool in the European Cup final and France in the final of the European Championship, but in truth, neither of his sides should have been there. Those Real Madrid and Spain sides overcame great obstacles and superior teams by embracing the attributes that Camacho always embodied: courage, sacrifice, and belief.
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was to guide one group of young academy graduates to greatness. The five players who would become known as the Quinta del Buitre may not have succeeded without his help and example. With him, they went on to dominate the latter half of the '80s and rank alongside the 1950s side of Di Stefano, Gento, and Puskas as the greatest teams to wear the Real Madrid colors.
Rarely has there ever been an equally elegant striker. Teammates claim that Emilio Butragueño never needed to train, that his skills were so instinctive, that he could walk onto the pitch cold and you would never know the difference.
He was never the most prolific goal-scorer, but he terrorized defenses nonetheless. His poise in the box made him a frightening poacher. His first touch and ability to change direction with defenders on top of him can only be described as magic. Truly, some of his goals are of a breathtaking quality.
He was the symbol of the Madrid's legendary "Quinta del Buitre" team of the late 80s. Together with Hugo Sanchez he led the highest scoring attack in the history of the Spanish League, scoring 107 goals in 38 games.
Perhaps the ultimate compliment that can be made about Butragueño is that he raised the bar of expectations at Real Madrid. Before his arrival the Bernabeu demanded honor and sacrifice from its players above all else. By his retirement in 1995, art had been added to the list.
Iker Casillas is a man who needs little introduction. He is often referred to as "Saint Iker" by fans in honor of the miraculous saves he regularly delivers.
He exploded onto the national consciousness by becoming the youngest player ever to win the Champions League at just 18. He unseated the veteran César and has been the undisputed number one at both Real Madrid and the Spanish national side for the better part of the decade.
He is not the tallest goalkeeper, but he doesn't need to be. His positioning is nearly perfect. His agility is unrivaled. His speed of reaction is the bane of forwards everywhere. His command of his area and speed coming out of goal have improved with time. He is, in short, the most complete goalkeeper in the world today.
At 29, he is just entering what are normally the most productive years for a goalkeeper, but his trophy case is already running low on space. If you take his club haul of four Spanish leagues and two Champions League titles and add the triumphant Euro 2008 side which he captained, you would have to look to players a decade his senior to find his equal.
Spain has a long history of distinguished keepers. That he made this list ahead of Ramallets, Zubizaretta, and Iribar is a testament to his achievements.
The name Zamora has become synonymous with goalkeeping excellence. In his 22-year career he achieved unprecedented levels of international fame. He was so famous that when Joseph Stalin met Spanish President Niceto Zamora in 1931, he is said to have asked aids: "Wasn't he a goalkeeper?"
Like most players from the long-gone era before television, there is little preserved evidence of his greatness. He won numerous Catalan Championships and Copas del Rey with both Espanyol and Barcelona before moving on to Madrid, where he would win two of the first five La Liga titles before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
His immense popularity was exploited by a clever member of General Franco's fascist uprising, who infuriated the troops by spreading rumors that Zamora had been executed by Republican forces.
He was alive and well, and Zamora would go on to a long coaching career, but like many others, his playing career was tragically short.
Today, the Zamora trophy is awarded to the La Liga Goalkeeper with the lowest goals-per-game ratio.
History is a funny thing. There have been moments when the fates of empires were decided by a change in the weather or a prince falling from a horse. Nobody can see the consequences of his actions at the time, but the combination of events can create some truly strange outcomes.
In Spanish football, the decision that changed the course of history was made by Atlético Madrid president Jesus Gil in 1994 when he decided to shut down the club's youth system. Atlético were in poor financial shape, and Gil saw the youth team as the least valuable part of operations.
Little did he know but one of the boys Gil sent packing would go on to be one of the greatest players the country has ever produced.
Without the youth team at the club that he and his extended family supported, young Raúl Gonzalez Blanco moved across the capital to arch-rivals Real Madrid. Two short years later, he replaced Emilio Butragueño to become the youngest ever player to play for the "Merengues."
The man is now known only by Raúl and is a national institution in Spain and of course, in Madrid.
In his 14 years at the top of the game he has achieved numerous records. He is the all-time scoring leader in the Champions League and the second-highest scorer in La Liga history.
He is now in the twilight of his career but has never ceased to be a model professional. He has given Atlético fans plenty of reason to cry over the years. When he finally retires, it will be the other half of Madrid who weep.
Another long-serving captain of Real Madrid and Spain, Fernando Hierro probably ranks among the top defenders to ever play the game. Like Beckenbauer, his skill with the ball allowed him to play higher up the pitch or to dictate play from the back.
He was an excellent tackler and was not afraid to embrace the darker arts of defending. He also had a fearsome free kick, which he used to score many of his 137 career goals. How many center backs do you know that are capable of this?
He pulled on the Roja of the national team 89 times and played in three World Cups. He was twice named in the best 11 of the World Cup.
His departure from Real Madrid in 2003 signaled the beginning of one of the longest barren runs in the club's history. There has been a constant shuffle of center backs brought in to replace him. Most have failed.
Players of his caliber do not come along often, but when they do, they are never forgotten
Josep Samitier was the first superstar in Spanish football. He debuted for Barcelona in 1919 at the age of 17.
He is said to have been the perfect mix of technique, speed, and vertical leaps. His ability to out-jump his opponents earned him the curious nickname "prawn-man". The more conventional "king of the ball" was also used.
Over the course of his career he scored more than 600 goals. He was renowned for shooting with the point of his toe, which caused the ball to swerve unpredictably in the air.
He was instrumental in the growth of F.C. Barcelona because he was the attraction that allowed the club to fill its new Les Corts staduim. He also led the team to win the first ever Spanish League in 1929.
He would eventually transfer to Real Madrid, becoming the first of many Barcelona stars to join their eternal rivals in the capital, but unlike others, this act of "treason" did not stop him from becoming a legend in the eyes of his fans.
In a country more famous for producing skillful dribblers and slick passers than bruising center forwards, there is one classic "number nine" who stands out.
Telmo Zarraonandia, or "Zarra," as he was known, is the greatest goalscorer the country has ever produced. He played in the great Athletic Bilbao side of the 1950s alongside the four other members of their famous forward line, who scored over 800 goals between them.
Zarra was not a born goalscorer—he admits that his natural style of play was as a dribbler—but in those days dribbling in front of goal was not an acceptable thing to do, so he adapted and became a finisher.
He was a specialist at scoring with his head. In one poster for a international game in Stockholm, he was advertised to locals as having "The best head in Europe after Churchill."
In his short international career he averaged a goal per game, and it was his goal that eliminated England from their first World Cup in 1950.
All told, he scored 333 goals in 352 games. His 252 goals in La Liga are unmatched, and he finished as league top scorer no less than six times. He also holds the record for the most goals in a league season at 38. Hugo Sanchez would later equal that mark, but in Zarra's day the league only had 30 games.
His goal totals would undoubtedly have been better had he not missed more than two full seasons to injuries. Each time, his recovery was immediately followed by goals.
His strike rate, consistency, and totals are all beyond compare.
Spain hasn't seen a player like him since, and it is unlikely it ever will again.
The only Spanish player to receive the Balon d'Or is relatively unknown within Spanish borders. Most of his career was spent in Italy at Internazionale. His early successes in Spain and his time on the national team brought him recognition, but it is in Milan where he is really fawned over.
His rise was nothing short of meteoric.
Luis Suarez got his debut for Deportivo La Coruña in 1953. It took only that game to convince Barcelona to sign him, and they did. Barcelona had an excellent side back then, and he and won two Copas del Rey, two La Liga titles, and two Fairs Cups during his six years there.
In 1957 Helenio Herrera signed on as Barcelona manager, an event that would change the course of Suarez's career. Wildly successful during his short tenure, Herrera was spirited off to Inter.
The Argentine coach wasted no time in signing Suarez and paid a world record fee to do so. The man dubbed "the architect" became the star of Il Grande Inter, the best club side in the world in the 1960s.
His style of play can most easily be described as a combination of Xavi and Iniesta. His vision and passing were unparalleled, he organized his teammates like the former, and his touch and ease at skipping past defenders is shown by the latter.
His time at Inter earned him two consecutive European Cups, three Scudettos, and one Intercontinental cup. He also led Spain to its first European Championship in 1964.
His class was undeniable, and he triumphed everywhere he went. It is a shame he does not receive the recognition he deserves, but his merits are beyond reproach.
How is it that a 5'6" midfielder who can't win a header, doesn't score goals, and can barely tackle is the best player in Spanish football history?
It's quite simple, really.
He has done what no Spanish player before him has been able to: transform the national team into contenders. Spain are the reigning European champions, and for the first time in their history, they have realistic aspirations to win the World Cup.
Xavi, more than anyone else, deserves the credit.
Two of the best footballing sides on the planet are the current Spanish team and Barcelona. Xavi is the motor of both. The other players play, but he calls the tune. They go where he directs them with his passes and give the ball back when he offers himself for a return pass.
There is plenty of other talent around him, sure. The credit is obviously not ALL his.
Yet, when so many other teams struggle to fit their most talented players into their team without sacrificing the defense, Spain can fill the team with small, creative players because they so rarely lose the ball. Their theoretical defensive frailty is rarely exposed because their opponents get so few chances to attack.
Xavi is the key to this playing style.
He floats around the field passing and receiving, creating brief moments of numerical superiority to open up space between defenders. He turns on a dime and faints and shimmies with such effectiveness that opponents rarely get near the ball when he is carrying it.
His passes are so accurate and well-weighted that his teammates never worry about controlling the ball and can think ahead to what they plan to do with it. When Xavi does find an opening, there is no better player in the world at making the defense-splitting pass.
Spain and Barcelona cannot play the way they do without him. The "Tiqui-Taka" style of play built around him was once ridiculed in parts of the Spanish press, but the results it has brought have silenced all doubters.
This Spain side has been able to make their most dangerous rivals look ordinary, and even helpless. This bodes well for Spain's World Cup chances, and it speaks wonders for little Xavi.
Were he taller, prettier, or more charismatic, he would surely have won the Balon d'Or by now, but we can take comfort in the knowledge that we are all privileged to be able to watch an all-time great at the height (excuse the pun) of his powers.
Alfredo Di Stefano, Ladislao Kubala and Ferenc Puskas are shown above in Barcelona shirts, even though two were employed by Real Madrid. The occasion is a friendly match played for charity, but the truth is, that none of the three were strangers to changing sides.
These three players are the most famous of the generation of foreign football players to play for the national side of their adopted country. In those days FIFA did not have strict regulations on switching nationalities, and these stars lined up in the Roja of the Spanish national team.
Di Stefano, for example, was the country's top goalscorer for 30 years until he was passed by Butragueño.
Given the spirit of current laws on repatriation, these players were not included in the top ten, even though they easily could have been.