It’s a tricky task to accurately compare the greatest players from different eras. Football has changed so much over the last twenty years, never mind over the eighty-three years since La Liga was born. Working out the value of a goal, clean sheet or appearance in one epoch compared to another is difficult, but that hasn’t stopped me from giving it a go, so here are, in reverse order, the fifty finest players in La Liga’s history.
Naturally there’s a bias towards players who at some time represented Barcelona or Real Madrid: with fifty-three titles out of the eighty-one contested between them and so many European successes, it’s inevitable that the greats have been attracted to them. Indeed, there have been times of late when accumulating the best in the world has been their stated transfer policy, particularly at the Bernabeu.
So, dive in and see if you agree:
50. Julio Cardeñosa
An elegant technician, but more importantly, a great servant of Real Betis, Cardeñosa played for the club for eleven years after three seasons at Valladolid. A left-footed playmaker who would break into the Spanish squad in the late 1970s, he played nearly 400 games for Real Betis and helped win the Copa del Rey. His affiliation with them continued, establishing his as a true legend of the club, when he returned as part of Pepe Mel’s coaching staff.
49. Juan Carlos Valeron
Now embarking on a valedictory tour of the top division as his eighteen year career draws to a close, Valeron’s stylish playmaking was a key component of Deportivo La Coruna’s glory days. He had spells at Las Palmas, Mallorca and Atletico but it was at El Riazor that he really shone, claiming the Copa del Rey twice, the Supercup and the Intertoto and finishing in second and third twice each. Crucially, he stayed at the club when they were relegated and played his art in last season’s promotion back to the top level.
48. Mario Kempes
Best known globally, of course, for his Golden Boot-winning form for his nation Argentina in the 1978 World Cup, the long-haired Argentine striker was also a potent striker at club level for Valencia, scoring 116 times in 184 league games spread over two spells. Twice a Pichichi winner, he also got his hands on the Copa del Rey and European Cup Winners Cup.
47. David Albelda
Valencia’s skipper as Los Che won back-to-back Liga titles, reached the Champions League final and won the UEFA Cup., this tough-tackling midfielder formed a fine partnership with Ruben Baraja at the heart of Rafa Benitez’s fine side. He also enjoyed an heroic return when, alongside fellow club stalwarts Santiago Cañizares and Miguel Ángel Angulo, he was dropped by new coach Ronald Koeman. Once the Dutchman’s unsuccessful tenure ended, the trio returned to a side hovering above the relegation zone and helped haul them to mid-table respectability.
46. Adrian Escudero
Talk about loyalty: Escudero spent his professional career with Atletico and, when they decided not to offer him a contract in 1958, he decided to retire at the early age of thirty rather than sign for another club. His decision deprived the game of a few more years of his penalty area expertise, although Los Colchoneros certainly enjoyed his best years, as he scored 150 league goals at a rate of better than one every other game, still a club record, and helped them win two titles.
A prolific Galician striker in the 1940s and 50s, he bookended a successful spell at Real Madrid by scoring 59 goals in 101 games for Celta Vigo, helping them finish fourth and reach the Copa del Rey final, and an equally successful period in front of goal for Deportivo La Coruna. Twice he won the Pichichi, and he surely ought ot have won more than three caps for Spain, for whom he scored three times.
44. Michael Laudrup
A legend for Real Madrid, a legend for Barcelona. To pull that feat off and still be revered by both sets of fans clearly marks a player out as very special indeed, both in terms of his style and his personality. Creative, a threat in the box and always subsuming his interests for the good of the collective, here was an elegant player who provided the glue with which to connect the gifted, disparate talents of two great teams.
43. Campanal I
A phenomenal scorer from the early days of La Liga, Guillermo Campanal remains Sevilla’s record league scorer, having accumulated 101 goals over the course of 157 matches between 1934 and 1946. Twice runner-up in La Liga, sadly the club finally claimed the title in his last season, but he only played in four games during the campaign, scoring twice.
He might have played in goal for Spain, but Iribar is undoubtedly a Basque symbol. Captain of Athletic, he was unapologetically political. He led his side out onto a Nou Camp bedecked in Catalan and Basque colours after the death of Franco and unfurled the prohibited Basque flag with Real Sociedad captain Kortabarria before a Basque derby. He then proceeded to concede five goals, but don’t let that fool you: he was a significant a player as he was a regional icon.
41. José Eulogio Gárate
An Argentine striker with an eye for a goal, he established himself as a key part of the great Atletico side of the late 1960s and early 1970s which won three league titles, two domestic cups (he hit the winner in both finals), the European Cup and the Intercontinental Cup. During that time he managed to claim three consecutive Pichichi trophies, accumulating 136 goals for the Madrid club in total.
(Stay tuned for more La Liga History Top 50 – five parter)