Creating a Real Madrid XI by Player Popularity on Instagram

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistOctober 14, 2016

Dortmund, Germany 27.09.2016, UEFA Champions League - 2016/17 Season, Group F - Matchday 2, BV Borussia Dortmund - Real Madrid,  Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) und   Trainer Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid) jubeln nach dem treffer zum 0:1   (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

Real Madrid are one of the most followed, supported and globally reported-on teams in the football world, so it's no surprise that their players are also hugely popular in the public eye.

The rise of social media means that fans and players are closer than ever before—at least the parts of their lives the players want to share—with Instagram often a particular insight into what individuals might get up to away from the training pitch.

A trawl through those who wore the shirt of Los Blancos over the past 20 years reveals some who are incredibly popular for fans—not just fans of Real Madrid, but of their respective national teams in many cases, or other clubs they played for—to follow, watch on and admire from afar.

Here's a compilation of our Real Madrid XI, plus subs, according to their follow count on the image-sharing app.


GK: Iker Casillas (ikercasillasoficial)

The former Real Madrid stopper has 9.6 million followers and is the comfortable standout choice in goal—though his position is also that with the least amount of competition, given how long he was the established No. 1 for.

Now with FC Porto, Casillas played over 700 matches for Real Madrid, winning the UEFA Champions League three times along the way among other trophies—not to mention winning the World Cup and two European Championships and 167 caps for Spain.

He has been an enormous legend of the game, though on the field, at least, his star has somewhat fallen over the past five years.


RB: Alvaro Arbeloa (17arbeloa)

There's plenty of names available for the right-back slot, though it's former Spain international Arbeloa who takes it with his 2.7 million follow count.

The versatile veteran has enjoyed his career in two spells everywhere: two in Spain, two in England and two with Real Madrid. Having originally come through at La Fabrica, Arbeloa also played for Deportivo La Coruna and Liverpool. Real eventually re-signed him, and he became a key squad player in defence.

He left Real Madrid in the summer and now plays for West Ham United in the Premier League.


CB: Raphael Varane (raphaelvarane)

The first of the current squad to take his place in the team is Raphael Varane, though he's by no means the last. A fan favourite, he has amassed five million followers thus far.

A France international defender, he is a regular starter when fit for club and country—though that fitness has hindered him from becoming a guaranteed name on the teamsheet as yet, with his form suffering accordingly at times.

Even so, there are few in European football who can match Varane's pace, technical ability and aerial strength, and when—if—it all comes together on a regular basis, he will have no trouble being recognised as one of the most consistent, impressive performers at the elite level.


CB: Sergio Ramos (sr4oficial)

One who already enjoys that accolade, even if it isn't always merited at times, is club captain Sergio Ramos. The Spaniard has enormous popularity for his role at both club and country, reflected in his 12.4 million follow count.

An outspoken character at times, he leads with aggression both in his performances and his mannerisms, sometimes to his detriment but always with the absolute necessity of winning at the forefront of his mind.

The skipper has won multiple titles with club and country and, at age 30, still has several years left at the top of the game. An injury sidelines him for the immediate future, but he is a set-in-stone name on the teamsheet when available.


LB: Marcelo (marcelotwelve)

Marcelo is a cult figure at the club, a fantastic left-back in a world where too many merely decent ones are classified as top-class, and the most popular defender at Real Madrid with his 13.6 million followers.

The Brazilian is a long-term success at the Santiago Bernabeu after joining midway through the 2006/07 season from his first club, Fluminense. Having performed both on the wing and in defence, Marcelo has enormous attacking attributes and is a capable defender when his concentration is on point.

Quite aside from his individuality, Marcelo has proved to be a vital team player for Madrid, and his partnerships with those in midfield or higher upfield ahead of him have been vital in recent seasons.


RCM: David Beckham (davidbeckham)

One of the biggest names in football for a period in the early-to-mid 2000s, it wasn't a huge surprise when Beckham made the switch to the Bernabeu from Old Trafford.

Capturing admirers as much for his antics and showmanship off the pitch as on it, Beckham's global brand is represented in his 29.7 million follow count, the second-highest in our XI and the highest of the non-current Real players.

Beckham played over 100 games for England, won titles in four countries and was Ballon d'Or runner-up in 1999.

He has also played for AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and LA Galaxy—and Preston North End, on loan as a youngster.


CM: Toni Kroos (toni.kr8s)

The final five spots in the team all go to current Real Madrid players, starting with German midfield maestro Kroos and his 9.4 million followers.

A pivotal member of the first team for Zinedine Zidane and other managers before him, Kroos has recently renewed his contract to extend his stay at the Bernabeu until 2022.

He's a regular starter for Germany, whom he won the 2014 FIFA World Cup with, and looks set to continue being a first-choice midfielder for club and country for years to come thanks to his immense range of passing, his composure on the ball and ability to find space and time in the centre of the park.


LCM: James Rodriguez (jamesrodriguez10)

One of the only names on our list who has a larger-than-life following without being a star name at the club, James is ranked third with his 26.3 million followers.

The Colombian midfielder is a hero in his own country, admired by many on the South American continent and worshipped by some supporters, yet cannot hold down a regular place in the Madrid side at present—despite often coming up with the goods in the final third when given the chance.

A big-money signing after the 2014 World Cup, James is a commercial success even without having found consistency in performances since his debut campaign.


RW: Gareth Bale (garethbale11)

The Welsh winger is not far behind the likes of Beckham and James in the popularity stakes, which says something for his ability and likeability—23.4 million followers is almost eight times the number of the population of his home country.

Bale was a world-record signing when Madrid bought him from Tottenham Hotspur and has, after a slow start hampered by injury and press discontent, emerged as one of Real's most important players and most reliable attacking options.

He also starred for his nation at Euro 2016, reaching the semi-finals—Wales' first appearance at a major tournament since 1950.


CF: Karim Benzema (karimbenzema)

Perhaps it's indicative of the here-and-now outlook of social media that, from all the world-class strikers Real Madrid have had down the years, it's the current No. 9 who leads the way on 15.5 million followers.

The French forward has an enviable goalscoring record, has been part of a team successful enough to win the Champions League twice in recent seasons and is part of the fabled BBC attack, yet the suspicion must be that if Instagram and the like had been around a decade ago or more, Raul and Co. might have usurped him by some distance.

Having struggled with fitness so far this season, Benzema will doubtless be back to his usual level soon to help fire Madrid toward major honours come the summer.


LW: Cristiano Ronaldo (cristiano)

Top spot isn't even close: Cristiano Ronaldo tallies a monstrous 79.1 million followers, the highest-ranked sports personality on Instagram and one of the top 10 most-followed accounts of any kind.

The Portuguese superstar is a multiple Ballon d'Or winner, has three Champions League titles and four league titles to his name and added the UEFA European Championship this past summer with his national team.

He's key to everything Real Madrid do in a technical, commercial or transfer-related sense, and his name alone generates fear, interest or admiration depending on the position of the onlooker. He is the club's greatest goalscorer of all time, a record breaker every month, it sometimes seems, and perhaps the most recognised footballer of the current era.



Keylor Navas (keylornavas1): 3.1 million. Current No. 1 goalkeeper at Real Madrid.

Nacho (nachofdez90): 2.5 million. Versatile squad member, plays across the defensive line.

Pepe (official_pepe): Five million. First-choice centre-back in rotation with Varane. Fewer posts than the Frenchman, despite the same follow count, so takes his place as sub!

Zinedine Zidane (zidane): Nine million. Current first-team manager and former playmaker. Legend of the game.

Mesut Ozil (m10_official): 9.1 million. German attacking midfielder who now rules at Arsenal.

Kaka (kaka): 9.2 million. Brazilian hero, former AC Milan and Real Madrid man, now in MLS with Orlando City.

Ronaldo (ronaldolima): 5.5 million. The Ronaldo, one of the most feared strikers ever. Now retired.

*Figures correct as of time of writing


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