Ranked! The 10 best Spanish players ever
A decade on from the end of a dominant spell for Spain's national team, a look at La Roja's best-ever players
It is 10 years since Spain claimed a third major trophy in the space of six super years.
After decades of under-achievement at the highest level, La Roja claimed Euro 2008 and that team went on to add a maiden World Cup in 2010, before defending their continental crown in 2012.
Unsurprisingly, players from that golden era dominate this list of the nation's greatest-ever players, with legends like Telmo Zarra, Emilio Butragueno, Fernando Hierro, Luis Suarez Miramontes, David Silva, Pedro and Fernando Torres not making the cut.
So who are Spain's 10 best-ever players? We run through our top 10...
10. Xabi Alonso
Xabi Alonso was one of the pillars of Spain's success between 2008 and 2012.
The elegant midfielder featured in all three tournaments, although he started only one match at Euro 2008 under Luis Aragones, coming off the bench in the semi-final and the final as La Roja claimed their first silverware since 1964.
Alonso went on to play a bigger part under Vicente del Bosque, cementing his place in the magnificent midfield as Spain won the 2010 World Cup and retained the Euros in 2012.
The former Real Sociedad, Liverpool and Real Madrid midfielder went on to play 114 times for Spain, scoring 16 goals - including both in the 2-0 quarter-final win over France at Euro 2012.
9. Gerard Pique
Gerard Pique divides opinion within Spanish football, but his importance in La Roja's golden era is without question.
The Catalan centre-back transferred his excellent partnership with Barcelona team-mate Carles Puyol over to international level at the 2010 World Cup and was also excellent alongside Sergio Ramos at Euro 2012.
He was often crticised later in his career due to his perceived pro-independence views for Catalonia (although he has never come out in favour, only calling for the right to choose) and his outspoken thoughts on Real Madrid.
But he remained an important player until his international retirement in 2018 and has been badly missed since then. In total, he played 102 times for Spain, scoring five goals, and has been a key part of Barcelona's greatest-ever era.
8. Carles Puyol
Carles Puyol always gave absolutely everything for club and country - and the centre-back was essential to the success of both Barcelona and Spain late in his career.
The defender led Spain's back line at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup and was named in the Team of the Tournament on both occasions.
In South Africa, La Roja conceded just two goals and he headed a vital winner in the semi-final success against Germany.
Injury problems meant he missed the Euros in 2012, but he played 100 times for Spain overall and scored three goals.
For many years, Raul Gonzalez was considered the best player in Spain's history.
The former Real Madrid striker was a fixture in the Spain side for a decade and went on to become the nation's leading scorer with 44 goals in his 102 appearances.
But his international career was cut short as coach Luis Aragones opted for a change of direction and believed Raul's presence would cause more harm than good if the striker was not playing.
Aragones was vindicated as Spain finally won a trophy in 2008 and Raul did not return under Vicente del Bosque either, missing out on La Roja's glory years. But he remains one of the best players to wear the famous red shirt and a legend for Los Blancos.
6. Sergio Busquets
When Spain lost their opening match at the 2010 World Cup, coach Vicente del Bosque took the opportunity to heap praise on Sergio Busquets amid criticism for the Barcelona player.
Del Bosque, a fine midfielder himself back in the day, revealed he would like to have the qualities of Busquets if he were playing nowadays.
"He does everything," he said. "He is constantly available to help the team, he is generous, he empties himself defensively, and he is one of the first to start playing football. And when he is on form, football becomes more fluid."
No doubt. Busquets has played a pivotal part in Barcelona and Spain's successes - keeping his place ever since he made his international debut in 2010 - and he now has 134 caps (and two goals) for La Roja.
5. Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos has seen his last two seasons (at Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain) interrupted by injuries, but the centre-back has had an impressive career for club and country.
The 36-year-old is an inspirational leader at the back and has appeared a record 180 times for La Roja, scoring 23 goals.
Ramos was Spain's right-back at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, before moving into the centre of defence for Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho and appearing in that position for his nation ever since.
As well as his record number of caps, he has played in 131 victories for Spain and is the country's eighth-highest scorer. He will now hope to prove his fitness ahead of the World Cup later this year.
4. David Villa
David Villa was perhaps the biggest beneficiary from Raul being left out of the national team by Luis Aragones.
The Asturian attacker made the no. 7 shirt his own and went on to become La Roja's all-time top scorer - with 59 goals in his 98 appearances.
Four of those came at Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, with five more arriving at the 2010 World Cup as Villa played a key part in Spain's success at both tournaments.
The former Valencia, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid striker was missing through injury in Poland and Ukraine two years later and retired from international duty in 2014, before briefly returning in 2017.
3. Iker Casillas
Iker Casillas is a legend for Real Madrid and Spain following an incredible career for club and country.
The goalkeeper, who retired in 2020 after suffering a mild heart attack while at Porto, was captain of La Roja all through their dominant period of success between 2008 and 2012.
Even during periods when he was questioned, Casillas had the knack of saving his team in important moments and therefore earned the nickname San Iker (Saint Iker).
His save to deny Arjen Robben in the 2010 World Cup final is perhaps the most famous of all those moments, of which there were many, and he played a huge part in his nation's triumphs. He won 167 caps in total, a tally only recently overtaken by former Real Madrid team-mate Sergio Ramos, and kept over 100 clean sheets in those matches.
"Honestly, I don't have to use up many words to say how good he is, the results are there for all to see," Italy great Gianluigi Buffon once said of Casillas.
"He has won everything there is to win and has been on the same great level for so many years now, which is possibly hardest of all for a goalkeeper. Spain almost never concede goals and Casillas is the main reason for that."
2. Andres Iniesta
Choosing a favourite out of Andres Iniesta and Xavi was like asking Barcelona fans to pick their mother or their father. It's practically impossible.
Iniesta tends to top these lists usually. After all, it was his goal which won the World Cup for Spain in 2010. And he was also named Player of the Tournament as La Roja claimed Euro 2012.
Iniesta regularly played in a more advanced role for Spain. But he also excelled in midfield, gliding across and the pitch with elegance and grace. He was key in all three of Spain's tournament successes between 2008 and 2012.
Still playing with Vissel Kobe in Japan at 38 years old, Iniesta retired from Spain duty after the 2018 World Cup with 131 appearances and 13 goals for Spain.
He also left Barcelona that summer and will go down as one of the greatest players in the club's history, having won 30 trophies with the Blaugrana.
Wayne Rooney called him the best player in the world and Sergio Ramos said: "He is the enlightened one. Someone touched by a magic wand. He commands so much respect on the pitch. As a football lover I am proud to have played with him. He makes the difference and does things that no one else can do." Amen.
Everything changed for Barcelona and Spain in 2008 and Xavi is at the heart of that upturn in fortunes for club and country.
Spain coach Luis Aragones opted for a different style of play heading into Euro 2008 following some big disappointments and Xavi became the heartbeat of La Roja's passing and possession philosophy.
That continued under Vicente del Bosque over the next four years and evolved at club level, where Xavi was Pep Guardiola's leader on the pitch. Everything went through him - and he made everything better.
"From the first moment I saw him play, I knew he would become the brain behind Barcelona for many years to come," Guardiola said of Xavi.
Del Bosque once claimed he was "more important than the coach" and Argentina great Jorge Valdano said: "If football was a science, Xavi would have discovered the formula. With a ball at his feet, no one else has ever communicated so intelligently with every player on the pitch."
Xavi scored 13 goals in 133 games for Spain. He also won 25 trophies in an incredible 17-year career at Barcelona, where he is now the coach.
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Ben Hayward is Weekend Editor for FourFourTwo. A European football writer with over 15 years’ experience, he has covered games all over the world - including three World Cups, several Champions League finals, Euros, Copa América - and has spent much of that time in Spain. He currently divides his time between Barcelona and London.