Mark Griffiths continues his La Liga Top 50, the 2nd part of 5. Enjoy!
40. Roberto Ayala
A hard-as-nails centre back, the Argentinian arrived in Valencia in 2000 from Milan and immediately formed a key part of the backbone of a side which would reach the Champions League finals and win consecutive la Liga titles. Declared the best defender in the Champions League in 2001, the year their hopes of lifting the trophy ended in a shoot-out defeat to Bayern Munich in the final, he remained at the club for seven years before moving on. Villareal was his next stop, but before he took to the pitch for them he moved on to Zaragoza, where he enjoyed a further two seasons in the top flight.
39. Pep Guardiola
A man whose philosophy of football has affected the entire game as a coach, but a truly great player in his own right. A regulating midfielder, who held with discipline and passed with precision, Guardiola’s upright figure was a permanent key component of the Barcelona and Spain sides of the 1990s. His legend is enhanced by the story that Johan Cruyff spotted him in a youth game, anointing him the future leader of his midfield.
38. Enrique Collar
A star of the Atletico Madrid side which emerged from the shadows of Di Stefano’s Real to enjoy its own glory days. Collar was a Spanish international, but it was in stripes that he enjoyed his greatest days, earning the combined nickname Ala infernal, The Infernal Wing, with Joaquin Peiro as a consequence of their ceaseless energy and combination play down the left.
37. Hristo Stoichkov
A huge talent, but a wayward one at times. El Pistolero helped Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team to four consecutive league titles, and he was part of the side which finally won the European Cup in 1992. In these times of controlled football, part of me yearns for his wildness, but part of me wonders if there’s a place for it. And he did kill that rabbit.
36. Luis Regueiro
Another player whose name is inextricably tied up with the schism of the 1930s, Regueiro joined Athletic with his brother Pedro from FC Madrid, where his Republican politics had protected him during the failed first military uprising. Made captain of Athletic and was such a high profile figure that during the Spanish Civil War Nationalists spread the untrue story that they had executed him for propaganda purposes.
One of Real Madrid’s stars of the 1960s, his energy in midfield or pushing on from sweeper marked him out as a remarkable talent. Capable of provoking controversy, he scored a handball goal for Spain in the 1966 World Cup, and suffered the ire of Santiago Bernabeu after marrying an actress.
34. Edmundo Suárez
The spearhead of Valencia’s attack for eleven seasons, Suárez stands in eighth place in the list of all-time la Liga scorers, with 195 goals in 231 appearances. A powerful centre forward, he won three leagues titles, two cups and the Pichichi twice, as well as a Copa del Rey when he returned as coach to the club.
33. Carles Puyol
Warrior-leader, tenacious centre back, beating heart of the pride of Catalonia. Puyol is much more than a player, but he’s also one heck of a player. Whether at right back or centre back, his fierce competitiveness has allowed him to overcome a lack of pace and establish himself as one of the world’s foremost defenders. As injuries swallow up the tail end of his career, enjoy him while you can. You rather suspect that Barcelona are already suffering through the early stages of their greatest dilemma in recent years: how do you replace him?
Bala Roja, the Red Bullet, was a prodigiously fast red-haired left winger who earned legendary status for Athletic as he twice won the Pichichi, but unlike others at the time he defected to Franco’s side during the civil war, hurting his legacy in the Basque Country forever. When he retired he was the highest scorer in La Liga’s history, and still only ten men stand above him.
31. Iker Casillas
The best goalkeeper of his generation? Maybe. The most influential Spanish player of the last ten years? Possibly. An inspirational, totemic leader? Absolutely. Apart from his talents as a shot stopper, since his youthful introduction to the Real Madrid side Casillas has represented the heart and soul of his club. He’s had his hands on some rather impressive silverware for both club and country too, and you can rely on him to cling onto it!