Creating a Real Madrid greatest XI or a Barcelona greatest XI are impossibly tough tasks as it is, so imagine the headache in trying to put together a classic all-timed combined XI to celebrate El Clásico as one of 90min’s 50 biggest derbies in the world.
GK – Iker Casillas
All told, Iker Casillas spent 25 years at Real Madrid, joining his home town club at the age of just nine. He came into the first-team at 16, made his debut at 18 and was virtually immovable until 2012.
Casillas won five La Liga titles in total and claimed Champions League titles in 2000, 2002 and 2014. He was no longer a league starter in the latter campaign but kept his place in Europe. Casillas was arguably the best goalkeeper in the world for most of the 2000s, played 725 games for Real and at international level lifted the World Cup and two European Championships as Spain captain.
RB – Dani Alves
Dani Alves has won over 40 trophies in his storied career that is still going even at the age of 37. More than half of those came during his time at Barcelona when he was part of a team that can lay claim to being the best of all time.
The Brazilian is revered as one of the all-time great attacking full-backs and as an overlapping runner became such a crucial part of Barça’s system in those years.
Alves won the Champions League three times, two as part of treble winning seasons.
CB – Sergio Ramos
Real Madrid saw fit to pay €27m for a teenage Sergio Ramos in 2005, watching him repay that fee over and over again with all that he has achieved in the 15 years since.
Although a regular from the beginning, Ramos established himself as a star from 2008 onward, coinciding with Spain’s emergence as the dominant force on the international stage.
He was a key figure as Real won back-to-back Champions League titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018, having already been a winner in 2014, and has been in the FIFPro World XI every year since 2011.
CB – Gerard Pique
Although schooled in La Masia, Gerard Pique left Barcelona for his first taste of senior football with Manchester United. Since returning in 2008 he has played over 500 games and won 28 trophies.
Pique’s very first season back at Camp Nou yielded a treble, beating his former club in the Champions League final, one of three European titles to date.
The defender is synonymous with Barça and has long been tipped to become president, following in the footsteps of grandfather Amador Bernabeu, who was a former vice-president.
LB – Roberto Carlos
In tandem with international colleague Cafu, Roberto Carlos effectively redefined the role of full-back in the 1990s, bringing huge attacking elements to the position.
His ability to strike a ball is the stuff of legend, getting incredible power behind shots and free-kicks, thanks in no small part to enormous thigh muscles. Carlos first arrived in Europe with Inter in 1995, yet it was with Real after 1996 that he became a legend of the game, playing over 500 times for Los Blancos and winning three Champions Leagues.
DM – Miguel Munoz
Miguel Munoz was an early legend of the European Cup and was the captain who lifted both of a dominant Real’s first two trophies in the new competition in 1956 and 1957.
Munoz didn’t appear in the 1958 final, which was his final season with Real at the age of 36 after 10 years at the Bernabeu, but he swiftly moved into coaching and led Los Blancos to more European glory as manager in 1960 – one of the all-time great finals.
Munoz then won another European Cup as Real boss in 1966.
CM – Xavi
There is an argument that Xavi is the single greatest midfield player of all time, defining an era at Barcelona that saw the club move away from international stars and focus on home-grown talent.
Hailing from nearby Terrassa, Xavi made his senior Barça debut as a teenager in 1998 and remained an automatic pick until his final season, the club’s 2014/15 treble campaign.
Three times, Xavi finished third in the Ballon d’Or standings, while at international level he was named best player as Spain won Euro 2008 to kick off four years of dominance.
CM – Andres Iniesta
Iniesta was a nine-time La Liga champion, four-time Champions League winner and, like Xavi, a contender for the accolade of greatest midfielder of all time.
Legend has it that having seen a 15-year-old Iniesta play at a youth tournament, Pep Guardiola told then midfield colleague Xavi, “You will retire me, but this kid will retire us both.”
Iniesta often came through on the very biggest stages and made crucial contributions in all four Champions League finals he played in, as well as the 2010 World Cup final with Spain.
FW – Cristiano Ronaldo
Arguably the only player that has surpassed Di Stefano in Real’s illustrious history is Cristiano Ronaldo. He was already a superstar when Los Blancos bought him for a world record transfer fee in 2009, yet no one could have imagined the heights he would reach.
Ronaldo vs Messi has been the great debate of the 21st century, with both truly phenomenal players in different ways, the like of which will never be seen again.
Ronaldo won four Champions Leagues in a five-year period with Real, which even Messi can’t match.
FW – Lionel Messi
Dozens of Argentines hailed the ‘next Maradona’ shrank in the long shadow cast by the icon, but Lionel Messi has, in most ways, surpassed his fellow countryman.
Over the last 15 years, Messi has raised the bar for what it means to be a superstar. He once scored 73 goals in a single season and has netted more than twice as many as Barcelona’s next best. He will also soon enough take the club’s all-time appearance record as well.
Six Ballon d’Or trophies underline his status as one of the best ever.
FW – Alfredo Di Stefano
Alfredo Di Stefano was the original European Cup legend, scoring seven times in five consecutive finals in the early days of the competition between 1956 and 1960.
The Argentine, who later became a naturalised Spaniard, won 15 major trophies in 11 years with Real and was also an early two-time winner of the Ballon d’Or.
Di Stefano’s 308 Real goals remained a club record for 44 years upon his retirement. He is remembered as a very complete forward and is easily among the best of the 20th century.
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Edited by Tiyani wa ka Mabasa