Real Madrid vs. Barcelona: All-Time Clasico 40 Best Players
Saturday afternoon brings fans of European football one of the biggest matches in any season's calendar: El Clasico, Real Madrid vs. Barcelona.
Spain's two biggest sides, currently placed third and first in the league, meet at the Santiago Bernabeu in one of the most eagerly anticipated matches in years, with star names of previous campaigns—Andres Iniesta, Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Gareth Bale—being added to this time around by even more superstars, including Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez and potential debutant Luis Suarez.
Each will be hoping to add their name to a long list of heroes who have played their part in El Clasico down the years, etching the memories of their performances into club folklore, remembered by fans long after they depart the scene.
Here are 40 of the finest players to have telling impacts in battles between Los Blancos and the Blaugrana.
Of course, 40 players doesn't begin to nearly cover those who have had an impact down the years, so in no particular order, here are a few additional names who didn't quite make the cut.
|Quini||Jose Antonio Camacho|
|Luis Suarez Miramontes||Roberto Carlos|
We start with former central defender Manuel Sanchis, who spent his entire career with Real Madrid and made more Clasico appearances than any other player in history: 43 in total over his 18-year career.
The defender was one of the five stars to progress from Real's youth academy in the early 1980s, including Emilio Butragueno and Michel, and won everything in the game during his long career at the club. A classy but aggressive player, he would often act as sweeper for his side and spent many seasons as captain.
Carles Puyol is a name well known to all modern football fans, an aggressive, reliable and memorable defender who came through Barcelona's youth system and emerged as a right-back before a truly impressive career playing centrally.
Puyol spent his entire career at Barcelona, playing more than 30 Clasico fixtures all told, often taking centre-stage in the recent heated battles with his willingness to protect his team-mates, his will to dominate opposition attackers and his all-action style of play.
Another Real Madrid legend now, former central defender and midfielder Fernando Hierro. Playing in both positions, he racked up 37 Clasico appearances overall and was, for a long time, Spain's top-scoring national team player.
The goalscoring defensive player combined a fantastic reading of the game with a knack of hitting terrific set pieces, netting a huge number of penalties and free-kicks during a career which brought him three Champions League titles, amongst others, during over a dozen years with Real.
For half the world the best player in the modern game, Lionel Messi is the all-time top scorer in all competitions for El Clasico.
Tremendous acceleration, composed finishing, dribbling ability like nobody else on the planet and the relentless, consistent talent to do it week after week, year after year, have all made Messi a record beater and a phenomenon to watch in the red and blue of Barcelona.
For the other half of the world the best player in the modern game, Cristiano Ronaldo is the record-holder for scoring in the most consecutive Clasico matches, when he netted in six consecutive games for Real Madrid against Barcelona between 2011-12 season and 2012-13.
Ronaldo is the game's consummate athlete, a physical specimen who can outpace, out-jump, out-muscle any rival and show the technical ability and mental self-belief alongside that to score, score and score, seemingly every game.
One of the greatest Spanish players of all time at his peak, forward Raul Gonzalez Blanco spent more than 15 years as a Real Madrid icon and legend, scoring 15 goals in all Clasico matches—the third-highest of any player in these battles.
Poise, composure and a tremendous work ethic were amongst Raul's top traits, though he was also known as a leader of his team, captaining Real for a number of years, and often scored goals at key moments in matches.
Iker Casillas might be going through a tough phase in his career right now, but the legendary Spanish goalkeeper is a multiple European Cup, European Championship, La Liga and World Cup winner for a very good reason: He has reached the top and stayed there.
With well over 30 El Clasico appearances to his name, Casillas has been part of the Real Madrid side since his late teenage years.
Excellent reflexes and the capacity to make improbable saves were the cornerstone of his success, while as he grew with the team, he developed as a leader, a consistent force against opposition attackers and a reliable last line of defence.
One of Barcelona's all-time greats, Xavi Hernandez continues to impact on the team after 40 appearances in El Clasico, the third-highest tally of all-time, even though he is now being phased out of the current set-up.
A tremendously gifted central midfielder who has played both as a deep, controlling player and a more offensive threat, Xavi's talents have inspired a generation of ball-playing, possession-based technical midfielders, and the legacy of his game will live on after he finally departs the scene.
Alfredo Di Stefano
One of the greatest players in the history of world football in many fans' eyes, Alfredo Di Stefano was a Real Madrid forward who spent more than a decade at the club and brought plenty of success to Real, including eight league titles and five European Cups.
He was the all-time record goalscorer in El Clasico history, netting 18 in all competitions, until one of the current crop surpassed him. Even now, no player has more goals in league games between Barça and Real than Di Stefano's 14.
Cesar Rodriguez, better known merely as Cesar in his playing days, was a Barcelona forward from the 1940s and '50s who hit the back of the net with such regularity against Real Madrid that, until Leo Messi came along, he was the only Barcelona player to register double figures in El Clasico fixtures.
The 14 strikes he managed in El Clasico counted toward more than 200 he hit overall for his club before he left well into his mid-30s.
Maybe the greatest out-and-out striker of all time, Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima played a single phenomenal season with Barcelona—scoring 47 goals in 49 games all told, including one winner in that season's El Clasico—and later in his career played more than four years with Real Madrid.
Injuries might have prevented him staying at his peak for as long as he would have liked, but Ronaldo remained a fearsome, immense attacker and hit more than 80 league goals in four complete seasons, scoring four in league Clasicos.
Real Madrid former striker Hugo Sanchez remains something of a Mexican legend and was certainly a Real Madrid favourite, too, after his goalscoring exploits in the late 1980s and early '90s, even though he joined from rivals Atletico Madrid.
He scored 10 times in El Clasico matches in seven seasons with Los Blancos, winning five consecutive league titles along the way in 1986-90 and managed to score more goals in Europe than the number of appearances he made.
Chilean forward Ivan Zamorano spent only a comparatively short time with Real Madrid, from 1992-96, but made a big impact with his scoring prowess and his flamboyant antics on the pitch.
Zamorano scored eight times in total against Barcelona, but El Clasico he is best remembered for would be his hat-trick against the Catalan side, netting three inside the opening 40 minutes in season 1994-95 in a 5-0 thumping for the Madridistas.
Ronaldinho is one of the few Barcelona players to have been such a phenomenal individual that he destroyed Real Madrid single-handedly—and been clapped off the Santiago Bernabeu pitch because of it.
The sublime and silky skills of the Brazilian at his peak were amongst the finest sights in world football for a time, let alone just El Clasico, and Ronaldinho was able to perform to that standard on a regular basis against this particular foe. He scored in four consecutive matches against Real between 2004-05 and '05-06.
One of those to have graced both teams, Michael Laudrup joined Barcelona in 1989, played five years in Catalonia and then moved on to Real Madrid for a further two seasons in Spain.
At the former, Laudrup was part of Johan Cruyff's dream team which won four consecutive league titles and was heralded as one of the finest technical attackers around, with his movement, incisive passing and dribbling a key part of the team's prowess in the final third.
He later moved to Real and won the league in his first season with them. He scored once in La Liga for Barça vs. Real but not the other way around.
A Real Madrid great, Francisco Gento played as a wide man in the 1950s and '60s, seeing out more than 15 years at the club and amassing 42 El Clasico appearances, the second-highest total of all time.
Gento scored well over 150 goals for Real Madrid and was known for his impressive footwork, great acceleration and, as that stat shows, his ability to make a telling contribution in the final third. Gento's scoring prowess was frequently on show in El Clasico, where he scored 14 times.
Hungarian striker Ferenc Puskas had one of the most fearsome strike rates in the game during his prime years, many of which were spent with Real Madrid—where he netted almost 250 goals in eight seasons, three times breaching the 40-goal mark for a single campaign.
Puskas, with his powerful shots and clinical capacity in front of goal, netted 14 times in El Clasico against Barcelona.
Like Laudrup, Luis Enrique played for both sides—but in the reverse order. Outside of Spain, he is possibly almost entirely associated with Barcelona, having played for and now managed them, but he did spend five years with Real and won a league title with them.
The versatile midfielder had great ability to control a game from the centre of the park, was equally comfortable on either foot and managed a reasonable goal return with Barcelona, managing more than 40 league strikes in his first three seasons.
Luis Figo became one of Real Madrid's Galacticos when he completed his infamous move from the Camp Nou to the Santiago Bernabeu for a then-world record fee of around £37 million.
Playing most frequently as a winger, Figo was renowned for his great athleticism, dribbling ability and composure in the final pass. In league play, he scored three El Clasico goals for Barcelona and one for Real, where he was also playing when he had the widely remembered incident where a pig's head was thrown at him.
Juanito Gomez Gonzalez was a Real Madrid fan favourite during his decade at the club and was known for his immense dribbling, speed and penchant for scoring important goals.
Although he started out as an Atletico Madrid youth-team player, he never featured for the first team and eventually won five league titles with Real, scoring 10 goals in El Clasico matches along the way. Juanito departed from the Bernabeu in 1987.
A prolific and skilful attacking midfielder, Rivaldo was a key component of the Barcelona team around the turn of the century, despite ongoing battles with his managers to play him centrally rather than from the flanks.
Rivaldo won two league titles and famously netted a last-minute-of-the-season bicycle kick hat-trick against Valencia to clinch a Champions League spot ahead of Los Che in 2000-01.
In La Liga games against Real Madrid, Rivaldo managed five goals, including a strike five minutes into his first El Clasico, at the Bernabeu.
German attacking midfielder Bernd Schuster was a key player for Barcelona for close to a decade during the 1980s, scoring in El Clasico in his first and in his final season with the club.
Despite his long spell with the club, it coincided with dominance from Real at the time and he won only a single league title.
In 1988 he moved directly to Madrid, spending two years there and winning La Liga in each of his seasons with the club, though he didn't score against his former club. Schuster then left Real and went to play for their rivals, Atletico Madrid—and also later managed Real, winning La Liga in 2008.
Another world-record transfer, Johan Cruyff moved from Ajax to Barcelona in 1973 and spent five years at the club which he would later go on to manage.
The European Footballer of the Year while he was at the Camp Nou, Cruyff immediately helped Barça land their first league title in 14 years in his first season at the club—scoring once in a 5-0 destruction of Real Madrid along the way.
Cruyff managed a further two La Liga goals in El Clasico, but one of the game's greatest-ever players did not win another league title with the club.
Jose Maria Gutierrez Hernandez—better known simply as Guti—was a Real Madrid cult hero, a technically superb but sometimes inconsistent attacking midfielder who spent well over a decade with the club and never played for another side in Spain.
Playing more than 500 games for Real Madrid all told, Guti never scored against Barcelona in La Liga but was, of course, involved in some tremendous games between the two, with his incisive passing, volatile personality and penchant for producing chances out of nothing a perfect blend of the tension and dramatics which El Clasico brings.
An attacking midfielder who was a big part of Barcelona's revival in the mid-to-late 2000s, Deco signed from Porto and spent four years pulling strings for Los Cules behind the likes of Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o.
His vision, work-rate and technical ability made him a perfect link man for Barça between the middle and final thirds, and though he was never a particularly prolific scorer himself, he assisted countless times for the front few players and won two league titles and the Champions League with Barcelona.
Michel Salgado spent a decade with Real Madrid and, though never one of the biggest stars of the team during the Galacticos era, was a vital component of the side until his last couple of seasons at the Bernabeu: resilient, consistent and aggressive defensively.
Salgado was initially more of a stopper than a supporter but, encouraged by the all-out-attack nature of the team, grew into a more rounded supplier from the flank, happy to gallop forward without negating his defensive attributes. He won four La Liga titles with Real.
Diego Maradona only played two seasons at Barcelona, but they were memorable for his on-and-off pitch exploits as much as for the fact he was a world-record signing at the time.
The Argentinian genius is widely accepted to have been the first Barça player to have been applauded by the Real Madrid fans after his audacious and skilful goal in 1983. Maradona scored once more against Real, but injury and arguments with the club meant his time in Spain was short-lived.
One of the best players in world football today and the regular Barcelona captain this season, Andres Iniesta has spent his entire career to date with the Catalan club and has won absolutely everything the game has to offer, for club and country.
Hugely proficient technically, Iniesta is agile, has great vision and a fiercely competitive nature, despite his small stature.
With more than 500 appearances for Barcelona to his name, Iniesta will be a key part of this season's El Clasico and has already shown himself well capable of dictating the outcome of this clash—as shown by his goal and performance in last season's 4-3 victory over Real Madrid in March.
Regarded as one of Real Madrid's finest-ever central defenders, Jose Santamaria was a Uruguayan who joined the club in 1957 and completed around a decade of service, winning no fewer than four European Cups along the way, as well as six La Liga titles.
After his joining the club, Real kept clean sheets in four of the next five El Clasico fixtures, while he also represented both Uruguay and Spain at international level.
Brazilian forward Romario only spent a year and a half with Barcelona in the early 1990s, but his impact was as explosive and impressive as ever as he hit 30 goals in his first season—including a hat-trick in El Clasico.
His match-winning display came in a rampant 5-0 win in '94 en route to winning La Liga, while his side were also runners-up in the Champions League that year. He could easily have had a much more lasting impact in the fixture but for his habit of arguing with managers and switching clubs with regularity.
Now famous as a manager in his own right, Pep Guardiola initially became a Barcelona icon due to his domineering displays in the centre of midfield, possessing a mix of grit and poise which made him an essential holding player for his team.
Guardiola spent more than a decade playing and, eventually, captaining Barcelona to several trophies, though injuries somewhat curtailed his involvement in his latter seasons.
Nonetheless, he was a pivotal figure to look up to for many of the forthcoming stars of the Barcelona team—including Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.
A striker who progressed through the Real Madrid academy to become a star for the first team, Emilio Butragueno was one of the "quinta del buitre," the five academy graduates who had shone for Castilla and went on to play a massive role in reestablishing Real Madrid as a force in the 1980s.
He won six La Liga titles and scored in El Clasico in his first season with the first team, eventually going on to net four league goals in total in the fixture.
Samuel Eto'o was on Real Madrid's books early on, but a mixture of loan opportunities and foreign player quotas meant he never made the breakthrough at the Bernabeu—but was one of the game's top strikers during his time at Barcelona.
The Cameroonian striker netted four times in El Clasico in league play and won three league titles and two Champions League titles as part of the best team on the planet during that period.
Another of the "quinta del buitre" was wide midfielder Michel, a tremendously hard-working player who remained part of the Real Madrid team for well over a decade after his debut due to his consistency, his strength and his regular appearances on the scoring lists.
Between '84 and '96, he won six league titles and the UEFA Cup with Real, scoring at both the Bernabeu and Camp Nou in El Clasico fixtures.
English striker Gary Lineker arrived at Barcelona in 1986 on the back of his World Cup exploits and, in his first season, netted a hat-trick in El Clasico at the Camp Nou, scoring twice in the first five minutes of the game and later notching his third to win the game 3-2.
He netted another two goals in the fixture in league play in his remaining two seasons, but eventually being moved from his usual central striker role to a right-wing position meant he lost his effectiveness, his place in the team and then ending his spell in Spain.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy only had two full, injury-free seasons with Real Madrid, but such was his goalscoring ability that he still managed to hit four goals in El Clasico, half in each stadium.
The poacher was tremendously clinical from anywhere inside the box, with either foot, but after hitting more than 50 goals in all competitions in his first two seasons with the club, he suffered two years of injury trouble before departing the Bernabeu.
Giovanni Silva de Oliveira was an extremely talented attacking midfielder for Barcelona in the late '90s, not tremendously famed for his longevity with clubs or his consistency but certainly for his ability to produce the spectacular.
In terms of El Clasico, he seemed to save his best Barcelona displays for this most telling of matches, scoring in four fixtures in a row and managing five goals in total against Barça's fierce rivals.
Footage of the former Barcelona striker isn't widely available, so this shows the predator in action for Espanyol after he departed the scene from El Clasico—but the Paraguayan spent four years with Barca and netted close to 100 goals in all.
Re netted three goals in El Clasico fixtures, though found himself on the losing side on each occasion—he did win the Pichichi award in 1965 with his 25 strikes, finally putting an end to Ferenc Puskas' domination of the award.
Dutch playmaker Ronald Koeman spent six years with Barcelona, playing both in central midfield and the centre of defence during his time with the club, winning four league titles and the European Cup.
His range of passing, ability to read the game and fearsome set-piece taking made him an invaluable commodity to the team, while his goalscoring record throughout his career did not deviate for El Clasico—he scored five times against Real Madrid, including two penalties in a 3-1 win in his first season.
We finish up with a current player, one who has had a big impact—positively and negatively—on recent El Clasico fixtures: Real Madrid centre-back Sergio Ramos.
After signing from Sevilla as a youngster, he initially made his way in the team as an attacking right-back but has long since been established as a key performer in the middle.
Ramos is aggressive, physical, utterly determined and is capable of having an impact in the attacking third too, as his three goals against Barcelona indicate.