Ranking the 75 best players in Real Madrid history

Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) /
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Real Madrid, Marcelo
Real Madrid, Marcelo (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images) /

15. Emilio Butragueño

“El Buitre”(“The Vulture”), Emilio Butragueño has one of the most bad-ass nicknames in the history of sports – not just football – and both the playing style and on-field conquest to back that up. A superstar who could do it all as a striker, Butragueño is among the top 10 greatest goal-scorers in Real Madrid history, netting 171 times in 463 official matches across all competitions from 1982 to 1995.

A career spanning footballing generations, El Buitre was a Castilla sensation before becoming one of the absolute top footballers in Europe. Butragueño came third in the Ballon d’Or twice in 1986 and 1987, won the Pichichi a few years later, and won the league six times. Though he was certainly a great goal-scorer – and a scorer of great goals- Butragueño is among those legendary all-around center-forwards in Los Blancos’ history. To this day, his Madridismo knows no bounds.

14. Pirri

Pirri is another one of the top 10 greatest goal-scorers in Real Madrid history. That the versatile Pirri scored 172 goals, though, is especially remarkable when you consider he was mostly a midfielder or sweeper. He played everywhere for Los Blancos, like so many great players in his day, and one of the positions he did play was forward. Though it was not his primary spot.

From 1964 to 1980, Pirri logged 561 appearances for Los Blancos, winning LaLiga 10 times, in addition to the Copa del Rey four times. Further, he was part of the Real Madrid side that captured the European Cup in 1965/66. Pirri is one of the toughest players in club history, too, earning plaudits for winning a Copa del Rey Final with a fever and broken jaw. Take that, “flu game”.

13. Marcelo

No player has won more trophies in Real Madrid history than Marcelo, whose conquest of the Supercup, LaLiga, and Champions League title in his final Royal White season of 2021/22 put him at 25 total trophies.

Marcelo has a case for being the greatest left back of all time, and it is a sentiment both Toni Kroos and Florentino Perez back. Even saying he is the greatest left back in Madrid history is a huge deal, given Roberto Carlos is another one of the players in the conversation.

An elite creative presence on the left flank who worked tirelessly to start and support attacks, Marcelo helped change what is expected from fullbacks in the modern game and how fullbacks change totally change the complexion of a big match offensively. A demon for defenses during the three-peat era, Marcelo’s telepathic connection with Cristiano Ronaldo is a flank partnership that may never be topped.

12. Fernando Hierro

Fernando Hierro is one of the first players who comes to mind when invoking the word “Madridismo”. He was captain during the Galácticos era, and his bravery in standing up to Florentino Pérez against changing the culture of Real Madrid and disrupting the squad cost him his place in the squad. But it made him an even bigger legend of the club. Because in the end, he was right, and Pérez should have listened.

One of the greatest center backs of all time, Hierro could do it all at the back. He defended like a lion, won every duel, made last-gasp tackles and clearances, scored goals, made things happen with his passing, and elevated the players around him to great heights. Hierro brought the skill of a midfielder to his transition to center back and won five league titles and three Champions Leagues in total.

11. Zinedine Zidane

It is so difficult to rank Zinedine Zidane without taking into account his even more incredible legacy as a manager who brought great talents to Real Madrid and then turned all that talent into a three-peat winner of the Champions League. And that’s not even mentioning the league title he won in 2019/20, saving Real from what could have turned into a very dark period after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Los Blancos.

As a player, Zidane was a record-breaking transfer who was the centerpiece of the Galácticos project. He was the player Florentino Pérez was obsessed with signing above all else – and for good reason. Zidane was magic on the football pitch, the hero of the World Cup and Euros for France, and the greatest midfielder we have ever seen.

More importantly, Pérez knew that signing Zidane would give Real Madrid an aura, a legitimacy, and a basis for recruiting future greats for generations to come. And for all that Pérez may have gotten wrong in his era, he could not have been more right about Zidane, whose big-game presence was unmatched, even on a team of superstars. He was the king.