FIFA World Rankings: Spain's 20 Greatest Players

Jonathan MaldonadoContributor IIIOctober 25, 2011

FIFA World Rankings: Spain's 20 Greatest Players

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    The defending World Cup champions are a team that will go down in history, not only for what it has accomplished as a team, but also for those who play on it.

    Before them, many Spanish players have come and gone, never tasting international glory, but nonetheless placing Spain in the international spotlight.

    The world has been blessed with Spanish football, a game played so skillfully it can be considered its own form of art.

    Here are the 20 players who have contributed to Spain's distinction as one of the premiere countries in the world of soccer.

    In the interest of respect to the game and it's evolution through time, the players are not ranked but rather grouped by era.

20. Josep Samitier

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    Twenty years after its founding, FC Barcelona had its first true star. A year later, Spain introduced its first national team and Josep Samitier became Spain's first true star as well.

    Samitier is second on Barcelona's all-time goal scorers list and won 12 Catalan Championships, the first league championship before La Liga was introduced.

    Not only was Samitier a first in many respects, he was effective, productive and embodied the best of what Spain had to offer at the time.

19. Rafael "Pichichi" Aranzadi

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    Rafael "Pichichi" Aranzadi scored more goals than he had appearances for Athletic Bilbao. The rate of his goal-scoring is rarely, if ever, matched.

    The Spanish paper Marca awards the "Pichichi" trophy every year to La Liga's top goalscorer in honor of one of Spain's original national and international stars.

18. Paulino Alcántara

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    Paulino Alcántara is also one of the players chosen to represent Spain's first national team in 1920, but decided to stay home and finish his medical education. He joined the team the following year.

    Alcántara is FC Barcelona's all-time goal scorer. He helped the club win five Copa Del Rey's and 10 Catalan Championships.

17. Ricardo Zamora

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    Ricardo Zamora was one of many firsts for Spain. He is among the first players selected for the first Spanish national team. He is the first true star goalkeeper for Spain. He is also the first true personality of the Spanish team.

    Zamora was known the world over for his bravery and excellence at the keeper position. Standing 6'5", Zamora was an intimidating keeper who was also a bit of a rebel. On the way home from a earning the silver medal at the 1920 Olympics, Zamora was arrested for smuggling Havana cigars. He was also dismissed from a match during the tournament for punching an Italian player. He was banned a full year from play for failing to declare a signing fee on tax forms.

    Zamora may not have been the model citizen, but the "never let anyone get over me" attitude he seemed to carry around with him transferred onto the pitch where he truly never let anyone get over his defense of the net. His success included beating an English national team that was never beaten by any team outside of the British Isles.

    Beyond the talent and controversy, Zamora was also a trendsetter. His white polo neck jumper and cap would become staples of goalie kits for years to come, even in some areas today.

16. César Rodríguez Álvarez

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    César Rodríguez Álvarez is FC Barcelona's all-time leading scorer in competitions excluding friendlies with 235 goals. He helped the club to five La Liga titles and a total of 13 titles during his tenure with the Catalan club.

    Álvarez is remembered for being part of a legendary Barcelona front line in the 1951-1952 season in which the club amassed five trophies. He was Barcelona's second highest goalscorer that season behind Ladislao Kubala with 21 goals.

15. Telmo Zarra

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    Telmo Zarra is the most prolific goalscorer in Spanish football history. His goal total of 252 in league play is unmatched by any Spanish national. He also has 81 additional goals in cup play.

    What makes Zarra's scoring all the more impressive was his size. Zarra was a much larger forward than is typical for a Spanish player and his ability to adjust to the speed and agility of smaller players is a feat in its own.

    Zarra was the star during the golden years of Athletic Bilbao, which saw the club win La Liga once and the Copa Del Rey five times. During his tenure with the club, Zarra was awarded the Pichichi trophy six times.

    As a result of his extraordinary goalscoring, each year the top Spanish national goalscorer in La Liga is awarded the Zarra Trophy.

14. Alfredo Di Stefano

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    In the earlier years of La Liga, Spanish clubs were only allowed three foreign players on the roster. While this rule seemed to be a roadblock to building the best starting 11, the leagues' top clubs began using a very effective and rather ingenious loophole:

    Nationalize your players.

    Alfredo Di Stefano is without a doubt the greatest product of the loophole. Originally born in Argentina, and even winning a Copa America in 1947 with the country, Di Stefano would eventually become a nationalized Spanish citizen and join Real Madrid. Although not Spanish by birth, Di Stefano holds a significant place in Spanish soccer.

    Lead by Di Stefano and fellow star forward Ferenc Puskás, Real Madrid dominated like no other soccer club in history ever has. During Di Stefano's tenure with the club from 1953-1964, Madrid won eight Liga titles and five consecutive European Championships (Champions League today).

13. Amancio Amaro

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    In 1962, Santiago Bernabéu himself insisted Amancio Amaro be signed to Real Madrid. This was despite an outrageous signing fee at the time.

    The signing would pan out to be a smart decision as Amancio would be part of one of the greatest stretches in Real Madrid's history, helping the club win six La Liga titles in his first six seasons.

    One aspect that sets this player apart from the best before him was the chance to play on a Spanish national team after the Spanish Civil War. Widespread political turmoil and the war severely shortened the careers of the oldest generation of Spanish soccer nationals and prevented the team from truly competing at its potential.

    Amancio would help lead the Spanish national team to one of its greatest accomplishments, the 1964 European Championship in which the Spaniards bested the defending champs, the Soviet Union.

12. Luis Suarez

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    One of the few Spanish greats to experience his best years outside of La Liga was Luis Suarez.

    Suarez was the mastermind of the dominate Inter Milan team of the 1960s and the 1964 Spanish European Champions.

    He was the Xavi/Iniesta hybrid of his time. His creativity and control of the ball lead Barcelona to two Liga titles, Inter to three Scudettos and two consecutive European Cups and Spain to one European Championship.

    He is most remembered for his time at the "Il Grande Inter," the most dominate club team of the 60's.

11. Jose Antonio Camacho

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    It's difficult to be considered an all-time great as a defensive player unless you're a goalkeeper. Flashes of defensive brilliance all too often give way to unbelievable goals and displays of magical footwork on the way to the net.

    Jose Antonio Camacho would not be one of these forgotten defenders. Camacho is considered among the most important players of the late 70s and through the 80s for Real Madrid. During his 15 years with the capital club, Camacho defended nine Liga titles and two European Cups.

    His control and poise on the field was impeccable. He received only one red card through his career. He controlled the ball well and possessed unbelievable stamina. 

    He had little success with the national squad, but in club play his Real Madrid team is the closest anyone has seen to Alfredo Di Stefano's Madrid.

10. Andoni Zubizarreta

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    With 125 international appearances, Andoni Zubizarreta is the most capped player in the history of the Spanish national team. 

    Zubizarreta was the undisputed goalkeeper during his time with Athletic Bilbao, FC Barcelona and Spain. He played through four World Cups and three European Cups. 

    Zubizaretta has won every major club cup, but has never tasted international glory. Nevertheless he is one of the greatest goalkeepers Spain has ever seen and the first true star goalkeeper since Ricardo Zamora up until this point. 

9. Emilio Butragueño

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    Emilio Butragueño is a different kind of legend among the Spanish greats. While most people attribute success to tangible accomplishments such as league titles, Butragueño's style and play elevated Real Madrid to new heights and expectations.

    Butragueño is one of the famed "Quinta del Buitre," a group of five Real Madrid academy graduates brought in by Alfredo Di Stefano and closely mentored by Jose Antonio Camacho.

    The way Butragueño controlled the ball and flow of play in and around the box is rarely matched. He was a man of pure talent and brought the love of the art of soccer to the capital.

8. Fernando Hierro

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    A defender with 137 goals on one of the most prolific and highest scoring clubs in history, Fernando Hierro is truly a Spanish legend.

    As mentioned earlier in this slideshow, defenders rarely rank among the all-time greats on the front line. Hierro isn't one of the common defenders. His skill on the ball granted him the opportunity to lead the defense and play further up the pitch.The art of the tackle and the free kick can be studied by watching video of Hierro's play.

    Hierro was fearless and wasn't afraid to play a little dirty if the situation called for it. Madrid has not seen a defender of his caliber since his departure.

7. Raúl

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    In 1994, Jesus Gil, then president of Athletico Madrid made the decision to shut down the club's youth system due to poor finances.

    Little did anyone know one of the members of that youth system would sign with cross-town rivals Real Madrid and turn out to be one of the greatest players in Spanish history.

    Raúl's role was a direct replacement of Emilio Butragueño and Madrid could not have asked for a better replacement.

    Raúl's accomplishments are difficult to count, there are so many. But among those accomplishments are six Liga titles and three Champions Leagues. He is the all-time leading scorer in the Champions League and the second-highest in La Liga.

6. Sergio Ramos

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    From here on in, the slideshow focuses on today's best Spanish players, all part of the 2010 World Cup Championship squad.

    I'll begin with Sergio Ramos, whom many will question why is even on this list. He's my wild card, and for good reason.

    FIFA has a new metric which is: 

    "The Castrol Index, an innovative system which uses the latest technology to objectively analyse and rank player performances and which is being used at the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time, has thrown up some interesting ratings and provoked much debate."

    Sergio Ramos is rated highest on this index, which says a lot about his performance. Although the index is subject to much debate, and understandably so, there is no denying Ramos is as effective as advertised.

    Not only was he a major defensive factor in Spain's first and only World Cup championship, he displays his defensive wit on Real Madrid as well. He is not Spain's best defender ever and there are certainly better defenders around the world, but his accomplishments for Spain and Real Madrid make him deserving of the distinction of one of Spain's greatest players.

5. David Villa

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    David Villa has been one of the most exciting Spanish players in today's game. He is a scoring machine for the national squad, holding the record for most goals with 50 in 80 games.

    Regardless of his success on the club level, his performance in the 2010 World Cup alone is enough to catapult Villa into Spain's all-time greats.

    Spain scored only eight goals in its quest to the championship, the lowest total for any World Cup champion. Villa scored five of those.

4. Carles Puyol

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    Arguably the most intimidating and nasty defender in the history of Spain, Carles Puyol will go down as a legend once he hangs up his boots.

    The Catalan defender has played with FC Barcelona since 1999. He has been an integral piece of the current Barcelona team said to be one of the greatest club teams in the history of the game. He has been part of every major club and international championship won.

    Puyol ranked third in the Castrol Index behind Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila.

3. Xavi Hernandez

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    Xavi is considered by some circles to be the very best player Spain has ever produced. He doesn't score many goals nor is he the fastest or most physical.

    What sets him apart?

    He is the most masterful. No one has a higher percentage of completed passes in the World Cup than Xavi, and that same effectiveness translates on the pitch while playing for his club team FC Barcelona. Along with Andres Iniesta in the midfield, Xavi orchestrates the offense and creates countless opportunities for Messi and Villa up front.

    Rarely has Spain ever seen any player with the vision, accuracy and consistency of Xavi.

2. Iker Casillas

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    Ricardo Zamora and Andoni Zubizaretta have company on the list of greatest and most influential goalkeepers in the history of Spain.

    Iker Casillas captains both the Spanish national team and Real Madrid. He has a World Cup, Euro Cup, multiple Liga and Champions league titles as well as countless individual awards.

    He greatest triumph is without a doubt a World Cup championship. Even more impressive is the minuscule goal total against him (two) and the fact he held a clean sheet through the entire elimination phase of the World Cup.

    San Iker will always be remembered as an all-time great and may have overshadowed the great goalkeepers before him with all his accomplishments.

1. Andres Iniesta

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    Although this isn't a ranked list, Andres Iniesta is No. 1 for a reason.

    The first and only World Cup championship Spain can claim is all thanks to this goal in extra time (116th minute) by Andres Iniesta.

    What more do you need?

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