All-Time Real Madrid Starting XI
No club in world football is as aristocratic as Real Madrid, and nobody can come as close to its dominance of its continent’s premier competition, the European Cup, or the Champions League, as it later became.
Real has won the Champions League/European Cup 13 times — the first five European Cups, another in 1966, three around the turn of the 20th century and then four in five seasons from 2014 to 2018.
Being the richest in terms of revenue has allowed the club to buy the best players on the planet, frequently smashing world-record transfer fees for players. Real’s pull is one that few players resist, though the club has developed its fair share of youth products who have delivered for the white shirt.
These days, a rivalry with Barcelona might define the club, but in Spain, Real has been the premier club in La Liga, with 33 titles won. Many great players have contributed to the team's success since its founding in 1902.
These are the 23 best players in Real Madrid history, and they include some of the greatest to ever play the game.
Related:All-Time Barcelona Team
Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas
Experience: 23 years (1998-2020)
Years with Real Madrid: 18 years (1998-2015)
Career stats: Won the World Cup and two European Championships with the Spanish national team. Became the youngest goalkeeper to win the Champions League at 21 in 2000. First player in Champions League history to reach the knock-out stages 19 times.
From being a teenage keeper when Real won the 2000 European Cup to 14 years later in Lisbon, when he was captain, Iker Casillas was a mainstay and heartbeat of the club.
Perhaps his finest hour came in the 2002 final, as a substitute, keeping a rampant Bayer Leverkusen at bay in Glasgow to help Real win 2-1.
Experience: 19 years, all with Real Madrid (1979-98)
Career stats: Spent his entire professional career with Real Madrid. Played at 1986 and 1990 World Cups for Spain. Won the UEFA Cup in 1985 and 1986.
A speedy, tough defender, Chendeo was a huge figure in a team that often dominated the domestic scene but struggled to meet the standards of the club’s glorious past.
Real finally won the Champions League in 1998, after 32 years of trying. After that, a veteran Chendo hung up his boots at 37.
Defender: Sergio Ramos
Experience: 21 years (2003-present)
Years with Real Madrid: 17 years (2005-21)
Career stats: Most red cards of any player in Europe’s top leagues with 25. Won the World Cup and two European Championships with the Spanish national team. Alongside Lionel Messi, the only player to score in 15 consecutive La Liga seasons.
Sergio Ramos is a club icon icon of the club and was a leading light from 2005 to 2021 and his move to Paris St. Germain. A defender of real class but also true skulduggery, Ramos is one of those players loved at his club while feared and reviled elsewhere.
Defender: Fernando Hierro
Experience: 18 years (1987-2005)
Years with Real Madrid: 14 years (1989-2003)
Career stats: Was Spain’s record scorer with 29 goals when playing as a defender. Scored 21 league goals in the 1991-92 Liga season, the second most. Coached Spain at the 2018 World Cup as a last-minute replacement for Julen Lopetegui.
Fernando Hierro, tall and powerful at 6-foot-2, strode through matches, and was capable of playing on defense and in central midfield.
Adept at free kicks, and a fine header of the ball, Hierro was a regular goalscorer, notching an amazing 102 in La Liga.
Defender: Roberto Carlos
Experience: 24 years (1991-2015)
Years with Real Madrid: 11 years (1996-2007)
Career stats: World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002, and was a losing finalist in 1998. Runner-up in FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1997. Named by Marca in 2013 as a member of the best-ever Real Madrid foreign 11.
Roberto Carlos' rippling physique always will be recalled, with his bulging thighs and quads lending him speed and power.
He was known across the planet for the ferocity of his free kicks, though he also was an excellent defender and dangerous attacker on the overlap.
Midfielder: Luka Modric
Experience: 21 years (2003-present)
Years with Real Madrid: 12 years (2012-present)
Career stats: Captained Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final. Won the UEFA Men's Player of the Year award, Best FIFA Men's Player and Ballon d'Or in 2018. Croatian Footballer of the Year a record seven times between 2007 and 2018.
Luka Modric is slight of build, but with moral courage and confidence in his ability, he has feared nobody in his career.
From deep midfield, he has been the architect of Real’s recent dominance of the Champions League as a supreme passer and controller of his team’s tempo.
Midfielder: Zinedine Zidane
Experience: 17 years (1989-2006)
Years with Real Madrid: 5 years (2001-06)
Career stats: Won the World Cup and Euro 2000 with France. Joined Real from Juventus in 2001 for a world-record fee of 77.5 million euros ($87.0 million today). Coached Real to three consecutive Champions Leagues from 2016 to 2018.
Back as the Real Madrid coach after a 10-month absence, Zinedine Zidane was the best player in the world in the early part of the 21st century.
Perhaps the club should have won more after his signing from Juventus, but his winning goal in the final of the 2002 Champions League final, volleyed fiercely from the edge of the area, was among the finest moments in Real’s history.
Midfielder: Alfredo Di Stefano
Experience: 21 years (1945-1966)
Years with Real Madrid: 11 years (1953-64)
Career stats: Played international football for three teams — Argentina, Colombia and Spain. Voted fourth in list of all-time former France Football Ballon d'Or winners. Leading goalscorer in El Clásico, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.
While the World Cup never saw the best of him, the early European Cup was dominated by the naturalized Argentinian.
Alfredo Di Stefano had the energy and ability to play anywhere on a team and was the engine of Real winning the first five European Cups.
He is one of the best players of the 20th century.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo
Experience: 17 years (2002-present)
Years with Real Madrid: 9 years (2009-2018)
Career stats: Winner of five Ballon D’Or titles, the same as Lionel Messi. Has scored over 700 goals for club and country. All-time leading goalscorer in the Champions League with 124 goals.
Real paid a world-record 80 million pounds ($103.9 million today) to Manchester United in 2009 to acquire Cristiano Ronaldo.
The deal was barely a gamble as Ronaldo went on to plunder goals like nobody else in Liga history, aside from Lionel Messi, at an unbelievable rate of 311 in 292 matches.
He was the key man in four Champions League wins for the club, delivering a flow of goals just when his team required them.
Experience: 21 years (1994-2015)
Years with Real Madrid: 16 years (1994-2010)
Career stats: Real’s second all-time top goalscorer with 323 goals. Most-ever Liga appearances with 741. Only player to be named UEFA Club Forward of the Year three times — 2001, 2002, 2003.
A poacher supreme, but also a fine link player, Raul was the star of the Real Madrid that reasserted itself as Europe’s most successful club from the late 1990s onwards.
From being a teenage sensation to a veteran, he was one of the most popular Madrilenos of all.
Forward: Francisco Gento
Experience: 19 years (1952-71)
Years with Real Madrid: 18 years (1953-71)
Career stats: Only player to win six European Cups. Joint holder of most appearances in European Cup/Champions League finals with eight. Currently honorary president of Real Madrid.
When Real Madrid won its sixth European Cup in 1966, only Francisco Gento remained from the first victory in 1956. And he was still a speedy winger who buzzed with menace.
No player in the club’s history or in the rest of Spanish football has matched his record of Liga wins, either.
Goalkeeper: Ricardo Zamora
Experience: 22 years (1916-1938)
Years with Real Madrid: 6 years (1930-1936)
Career stats: Played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona. Award for the best goalkeeper in La Liga is named the Ricardo Zamora Trophy. Was Spain's most capped player for 45 years with 46 appearances.
Spain’s best footballer of the first half of the 20th century, Ricardo Zamora was a man ahead of his time as a goalkeeper of agility and leadership skills.
Though he began his career at Barcelona in his native Catalonia, Real is where he made his legend.
Defender: Manuel Sanchis
Experience: 18 years, all with Real Madrid (1983-2001)
Career stats: Played more than 710 games for the club. Captained the club for 13 years. Father, Manuel Sanchís Martínez, also played for Real Madrid.
Like Chendo, Manuel Sanchis was a member of the 1980's golden generation that could never win the European Cup and hung on until the Champions League era.
He played in the 1998 final, captaining the team from central defense, and came on as a substitute to lift the trophy in Paris in 2000.
Defender: Jose Santamaria
Experience: 18 years (1948-66)
Years with Real Madrid: 9 years (1957-66)
Career stats: Played for both Uruguay and Spain national teams. Was coach of the Spanish national team for the 1982 World Cup finals. Won 12 major titles with Real Madrid.
Bought from Uruguayan club Nacional, Jose Santamaria made a two-time European Cup-winning team even stronger as a commanding defender whose nickname was "The Wall."
As a veteran, he won his final European Cup in 1966, choosing to retire afterward.
Experience: 14 years (2005-present)
Years with Real Madrid: 12 years (2007-present)
Career stats: Has been named to the FIFPro World XI five times. Joined Real as an 18-year-old and remains a key player. Has won 20 major trophies with the club.
In signing Marcelo, Real swiftly found a replacement for Roberto Carlos, and it might be said that the younger Brazilian is even more adept as an attacking force.
Marcelo and Ronaldo struck up a close relationship both on and off the field, and he was a regular supply line before his friend departed for Juventus in the summer of 2018.
Midfielder: Fernando Redondo
Experience: 19 years (1985-2004)
Years with Real Madrid: 6 years (1994-2000)
Career stats: Won the Copa America with Argentina in 1993. Studied law at university while a professional player. Named by Marca in 2013 as a member of the best-ever Real Madrid foreign 11.
Upright, calm and collected with dazzling skill, Fernando Redondo was the conductor of the Real team that won the Champions League in 1998.
Then, in 2000, he was a leading star on the road to a second triumph, after which he was controversially sold to AC Milan.
There, a career-ending injury meant that the world saw his best talents as a Real player.
Midfielder: Claude Makelele
Experience: 20 years (1991-2011)
Years with Real Madrid: 3 years (2000-03)
Career stats: Won league titles in France, Spain and England. Losing World Cup finalist with France in 2006. Did not score a league goal in 94 appearances for Real.
You can measure how good a player Claude Makelele was for Real by the long Champions League drought the club embarked on without him.
The adopted Frenchman, who was born in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), redefined the midfield anchorman position, which is known as the "Makelele role" to this day.
He also was a favorite teammate of Zidane, who lamented that he was allowed to join Chelsea.
Midfielder: Luis Figo
Experience: 20 years (1989-2009)
Years with Real Madrid: 5 years (2000-2005)
Career stats: Joined Real from Barcelona in 2001 for a world-record fee of 62 million euros ($69.7 million today). Played 127 times for Portugal, captaining them to the losing final of the Euro 2004. Named by Marca in 2013 as a member of the best-ever Real Madrid foreign 11.
When Real Madrid president Florentino Perez snaffled Luis Figo, Barcelona’s best player, for a then-record fee, he began the club’s "Galacticos" era.
The club bought the globe’s biggest stars with a money-is-no-object approach.
Figo lived up his billing as a player who inspired those around him, and moved from being more than a mere winger to a vital creative force.
Experience: 16 years (1981-1997)
Years with Real Madrid: 15 years (1981-1996)
Career stats: Played 70 times for the Spanish national team, including the 1986 and 1990 World Cups. Won the UEFA Cup with Real in 1985 and 1986. Was coach of Real Madrid Castilla for the 2006-07 season.
Real Madrid won four straight titles from 1985-86 to 1989-90, and took home the UEFA Cup in the two seasons before that.
Michel, tall, forceful, full of verve and a supreme crosser of the ball, was one of the youth products at the fulcrum of the club’s revival during that time.
Forward: Ferenc Puskas
Experience: 23 years (1943-66)
Years with Real Madrid: 8 years (1958-66)
Career stats: Scored seven goals in two European Cup finals. Captained Hungary to losing the 1954 World Cup final. Scored 156 goals in 180 Liga games for Real.
The performance that defines Real Madrid’s dominance of the mid-20th century, and has been described as the match of the century, was the 1960 European Cup final in Glasgow, where Real beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3, and Ferenc Puskas scored four goals.
He already was one of the best players in history after his exploits with Hungary, but Puskas, by then bulky and unathletic but still deadly, cemented his legend in Madrid.
Forward: Emilio Butragueno
Experience: 16 years (1982-98)
Years with Real Madrid: 13 years (1982-95)
Career stats: Did not receive a single red card in his career. Won the UEFA Cup with Real in 1985 and 1986. Scored a record-equalling four goals at the 1986 World Cup for Spain against Denmark.
That 1980s generation of Sanchis and Michel had its leader in the willowy Emilio Butragueno. He was small in stature but a supreme goalscorer, known as "El Buitre" (the Vulture).
He and Manuel Sanchis, Rafael Martín Vázquez, Míchel and Miguel Pardeza, all youth products, the Quinta del Buitre, were the players who fired Real’s dominance.
Forward: Hugo Sanchez
Experience: 21 years (1976-97)
Years with Real Madrid: 7 years (1985-92)
Career stats: Fourth highest scorer in the history of La Liga with 234 goals. Seventh highest scorer in Real Madrid history with 208 goals. Scored over 540 goals for club and country.
Acrobatic, instinctive and aggressive, Hugo Sanchez, still Mexico’s most successful export to Europe, was poached from crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid to be the leading striker in Real’s team of the late 1980s.
He scored 27 or more goals in four consecutive seasons between 1986 and 1990.
Manager: Vicente del Bosque
Experience: 29 years (1987-2016)
Years with Real Madrid: 4 years (1999-2003)
Career stats: Coached Spain to winning the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. Won five Liga titles as a player with Real Madrid. Had previously been a caretaker manager before the full-time role.
Real is a club known for chewing up and spitting out managers. It does not tend to endure long.
But Vicente Del Bosque, a former player, understood the club and was able to marry a collection of youth products, experienced veterans and expensive stars into a team that won two league titles and two Champions League titles.
The strength of the job he did is shown by the long trophy drought the club went on when he was removed after winning a Liga title.
Related:All-Time Barcelona Team