Real Madrid are on the cusp of regaining the title of world’s greatest club, but that route to glory will be defined by the 15 Galácticos who now hold court as the club's most influential set of players.
For several years now, Los Merengues has lived in the shadow of a rampant Barcelona.
The players, fans and Los Blancos hierarchy have watched with envy as Barca garnered trophy after trophy, culminating in the aforementioned club's tag as the most feared club in football.
If the Real rot is to stop, then these 15 gladiators must rise to the occasion.
Note: This listing is about the present Real Madrid team and not the past. Also, the listing isn't indicative of who has been more influential or whose presence has defined the club with regards to their successes.
Iker Casillas first made his debut for Real Madrid in 1997 at the age of 16—however it wasn’t until 1998 when he really came to the fore to prove his worth to the club.
In the 2001-2 season he was instrumental in the Galácticos winning their ninth UEFA Champions League title when he came on as a substitute for the injured César Sánchez.
In the match against Bayern Leverkusen, Casillas pulled off some amazing saves. Real went on to win the match 2-1, and in doing so won the title for the second year running.
Ever since then, Casillas has been the club's first-choice goalkeeper.
The Real captain also helped the club to claim their 31st La Liga title in the 2007-08 season.
Casillas rated as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, holds the record for most games played by a Real goalkeeper—almost 600 appearances.
Casillas is one of the heartbeats of the club and his presence has been imperative to the club and its achievements.
Casillas is contracted to Merengues until 2017, with a buyout clause of £113 million.
At 19, Sergio Ramos joined Los Vikingos from Sevilla for €27 million, a record at the time.
One of four captains for the club, Ramos is one of the defensive mainstays for Real.
His versatility allows him to play as centre-back, right-back or as defensive midfielder.
Apart from his defensive qualities, one of the attributes Ramos brings to the club is his penchant for scoring goals—since his signing in 2005, he has scored 36 goals in all competitions for Real.
Ramos has over 20 assists to his name as well.
Ramos’ contract with Los Vikingos runs until 2017.
After spending close to six years at Chelsea FC, Ricardo Carvalho was signed in 2010 by Los Blancos for a fee in the region of £6.7 million.
Since the Portuguese’s arrival from Stamford Bridge, Carvalho’s defensive skills have helped elevate the Galácticos to title contenders for both the La Liga and the UEFA Champions League, especially in the 2011-12 campaign.
The 33-year-old centre-back is currently on a two-year contract, but with his solid performances for the club, an extension isn’t out of the question.
It was Pepe’s defensive displays for Porto in 2005 and 2006 that brought his attention to Los Merengues.
And by 2007 the Brazilian-born Portuguese centre-back was a Real player after signing a five-year contract worth €30 million.
Pepe had a good first season for the Galácticos, but was beset with injuries during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Nevertheless, in the 2010-11 campaign he came back stronger, and his pairing with fellow countryman Ricardo Carvalho has produced some of the most exquisite defending in La Liga.
Pepe, who’s a natural stopper, can also play as defensive midfielder if need be.
The downside to Pepe's defensive brilliance is his volatile character on the pitch, which on one occasion saw him receive a 10-match ban for violent conduct.
Pepe’s is contracted to the Galácticos until 2016.
Álvaro Arbeloa had been part of the Real Madrid and the B team setup since 2000.
The right-back, who can also substitute as a central defender or left-back, spent half a season with Spanish side DePortivo La Coruña before a subsequent move to Liverpool FC.
It was at Anfield that Arbeloa started making a name for himself, cementing a first-team place as well as appearing in the 2007 UCL final in which Liverpool lost to eventual winners AC Milan.
By 2009 Arbeloa was back at the Bernabéu after signing a five-year contract worth £5 million.
Since his return, Arbeloa has impressed boss José Mourinho with both his defensive capabilities and his versatility.
Arbeloa has a contract with Los Blancos until 2014.
The 23-year-old Fabio Coentrão joined the Galácticos from Benefica in July of 2011 on a six-year contract in the region of €30 million.
Coentrão's preferred position is as a left-back, be he can also operate on the left-wing or as a central midfielder.
Even though Coentrão has only featured in a number of games for Los Merengues this season, his versatility on the pitch makes him an integral part of Real and their quest for glory on both the domestic and European front.
The Brazilian left-back, who can also position himself as a left-winger, joined the Bernabéu from Fluminense in 2007.
Marcelo Vieira has had the accolade of successor to Roberto Carlos bestowed upon him, and thus far he has accounted for himself exceedingly well.
Though Vieira did suffer a poor run of form during the 2009 campaign, he would later prove, especially under Jose Mourinho, that he had what it took to don the Galácticos jersey.
Vieira’s flexibility, abundance of pace, attack-mindedness and defensive qualities have made him a mainstay for Los Vikingos.
Vieira is contracted to the Galácticos until 2015.
Xabi Alonso first plied his trade at Spanish outfit Real Sociedad, before a loan spell at Eibar, before an eventual move to Liverpool FC in 2004.
It was his skills and accomplishments at Anfield, as well as his role in Spain achieving glory in the Euro 2008 Championships, that got him Real's notice.
And 2009, Los Merengues came calling.
Alonso signed on the dotted line for a contract estimated to be worth £30 million, thus becoming the fourth-most expensive midfielder.
His long-range shooting makes him a danger to the opposition both from set pieces and open play—his 61-yard bullet in 2006 against Newcastle United in the Premier League is evident of that.
Alonso, who operates as a holding midfielder, was one of the main reasons Los Blancos were able to give Barcelona a run for their money in the 2009-10 season en route to the La Liga title—finishing three points behind Barca.
Alonso’s contract expires in 2013.
Since his arrival from VfB Stuttgart in 2010, Sami Khedira has made 52 appearances for Los Vikingos, indicating how essential he is to Real’s title aspirations.
The German international's attacking characteristics, creativity, speed and aerial supremacy makes him a handful for any opponent.
At only 24, the sky is the limit for Khedira.
With his capabilities, Khedira is an important piece to the Galácticos' push for glory.
Khedira is contracted to the Galácticos until 2015.
The Brazilian midfield maestro formerly of the Sao Paulo and AC Milan outfits has been inconsistent with Los Merengues since he arrived at the Bernabéu back in 2009.
Kaka’s form at the time was mostly due to a niggling injury, which was later operated on, leaving him out of the side for eight months
Be that as it may, in the 2011-12 season, Real has seen a resurgence in the former Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year.
And if Kaka is fit and firing on all cylinders, then that can only be good news for the team and Jose Mourinho.
Kaka is contracted to Los Merengues until 2015.
Mesut Özil’s performances at the 2010 World Cup and his nomination for the tournament's best player put him firmly in Real Madrid’s sights.
And soon afterwards, Özil signed a contract with the Galácticos for a sum in the region of €15 million from German club Werder Bremen.
The 23-year-old Özil is among the top young talents in world football today.
Özil’s performances for Real have garnered praise from his teammates, fans and the media.
In the 2010-11 season for the Galácticos, Özil finished with the highest assists of any player in a major European tournament—25.
And if that wasn't enough, Jose Mourinho has given the young German carte blanche to operate as the main playmaker for the Galácticos.
Özil’s contract runs until 2016.
The Argentine winger joined the Los Blancos in 2010 from Benfica for a fee of €25 million with incentives worth €11 million.
Ángel di Mariá’s career at the Bernabéu has been fruitful as well as productive, helping Real to defeat Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final. His assist to Cristiano Ronaldo enabled Real to win the trophy.
Di Mariá also possesses great passing abilities, which he uses to great effect to unlock defenses.
Di Mariá is contracted to Real Madrid until 2015.
At 6’2”, Karim Benzema is a sturdy and powerfully built striker who is also comfortable playing as a winger.
Benzema is a very good technician on the ball and has goal-scoring prowess to boot—amassing 44 goals in 69 appearances for Los Merengues, with nine of those in the first nine games of the 2011-12 season.
The 23-year-old signed from Lyon in 2009 for a transfer fee of €35 million with an added €7 million based on incentives.
Benzema’s talent for goal will be crucial if Los Merengues are to contend with the likes of Barcelona and the European elite.
Benzema has a contract with the Galácticos until 2015.
Gonzalo Higuain was signed from Argentine outfit River Plate in late 2006 for a fee of €13 million.
Initially, Higuain’s start for his new club was slow, but for the past three years he’s become a potent force in front of goal and is one the club's main strikers.
The Argentine hit man has started the 2011-12 season with a bang—netting 10 goals in all competitions for Real, including two hat tricks against Espanyol and Real Betis.
Higuain’s inclusion in the Galácticos side is of paramount importance, as his goals could make the difference between winning and losing.
Higuain is contracted Los Vikingos until 2016.
If Real Madrid are to challenge for both the La Liga and UCL titles, then Cristiano Ronaldo is the man to lead them to both championships.
The mercurial Portuguese isn’t an island, but he’s sure coming close to attaining greatness beyond his wildest dreams.
The former World Player of the Year signed from Manchester United after having two mind-blowing seasons with the Red Devils. In Ronaldo’s last two years for United, he scored 68 goals in 102 appearances in all competitions.
Amazingly Ronaldo brought his newly found scoring trait to Los Blancos after signing for a record fee of £80 million, and with a buyout of clause estimated to be worth €1 billion.
His first season's goal tally for the Galácticos was 33 goals in 35 competitions.
The following season he surpassed himself by amassing an incredible 53 goals in 54 appearances, making him the highest ever scorer in Real Madrid’s history.
This season, Ronaldo has found the net 17 times in 11 outings.
Ronaldo is without a doubt one of the world's greatest footballers.
If Ronaldo is fit and doing what he does best—scoring goals—then Los Merengues have every chance of usurping Barcelona’s stranglehold on the La Liga title.
The Holy Grail that is the UCL which has eluded Los Merengues' grasp for nine years is now a real possibility with the acquisition of Ronaldo.
The Galácticos in all honesty would be half a team without the services of Ronaldo.
Ronaldo is contracted to Real until 2016.