Formation : 4-4-2
Keylor Navas (GK) – Costa Rica
“He’s spectacular between the posts, he’s brave, skilful and very agile. He maintains his concentration and he’s also intelligent. For me, he deserves all the respect he gets for what he’s done.” – Manuel Almunia
Everything could have been so different for Keylor Navas if it wasn’t for a dodgy fax machine. Before the start of the 2015-16 season, David De Gea was poised to join Real Madrid in a swap deal with Navas going to Manchester United. But, the move fell through in dramatic fashion as United were unable to submit the required papers in time because their fax machine was “damaged”. While De Gea had to marshal a defense of Smalling and Jones in the following years, the Costa Rican went on to establish himself as a club legend in Madrid.
Keylor Navas is a ridiculously good shot stopper. His lightning quick reflexes have saved Real Madrid from the jaws of defeat countless times. Also, he cemented his reputation as a “Big-Match Player” in Madrid’s Champions League run . The goalkeeper of the Blancos during one of their most successful eras, Navas made 104 appearances in 6 years, winning a La Liga title and three consecutive Champions League titles.
Iker Casillas is one of the greatest goalkeepers football has seen. His contributions in both club and country level, is outstanding. His legacy and achievements with Los Blancos remains unmatched to date. But boy, Keylor Navas came close!
Sergio Ramos (RB) (C) – Spain
“Sergio Ramos is my heir.” – Paolo Maldini
It was an intense night. After 90 gritty minutes, Diego Simeone’s resilient Atletico Madrid was in the driving seat to lift the “Big Ears” in Lisbon. At the other end, Real Madrid was struggling. As Luka Modric took the 92nd minute corner, one man rose higher than anybody else and headed the ball into the net, saving the Blancos from the jaws of yet another heartbreaking defeat in the competition. The man was Sergio Ramos. His goal won Real Madrid the La Decima, ushering in an era of dominance.
Captain. Leader. Legend.
Sergio Ramos Garcia has been at the centre of Real Madrid’s success, the previous decade. He has excelled in Madrid as a right back and especially, as a centre back. His goals were decisive in securing the La Decima and the La Undecima. He is a born leader. The bigger the occasion, the better his performance. With five La Liga titles, four Champions League titles and numerous other laurels, team and individual, he is one of the most decorated players to ever play for Real Madrid.
He is reckless. He is impulsive. He may have the worst disciplinary record in all of football. He is Sergio Ramos, the best defender of his generation.
(PS – I had to include Ramos at right back rather than at centre back because of the lack of quality foreign options in the position.)
Raphael Varane (CB) – France
“He’s already one of the best centre-backs of all time.” – Eden Hazard
Considering that Raphael Varane is only 27, what he has managed to achieve is nothing short of ridiculous. He has made over 300 appearances and won 18 major honours at Real Madrid. He won his third Champions League title at the age of 24! Add a World Cup triumph with France to this, and you’ve got a near perfect football career and the Frenchman can play at the highest level for at least another 6-7 years.
Varane was a crucial cog in the Real Madrid squad that won three Champions League titles in succession. Unlike Sergio Ramos, his loud and haphazard partner, Varane is an unflashy, no-nonsense defender with a near perfect disciplinary record.( He has been at the receiving end of just two red cards, while Ramos has a staggering 26!)
Although his form has dipped in the last couple of years, on his day, Varane is undoubtedly among the best centre-backs in the world. He is a rather underrated player. His career peaked in 2018, the year in which he won both the Champions League and the World Cup. I personally feel that he should have won the Ballon d’Or that year.
Jose Santamaria (CB) – Uruguay
“Jose who?” Few must have heard of Jose “The Wall” Santamaria. He was the defensive juggernaut of the legendary squad boasted by Real Madrid in the 60s. While the likes of Di Stefano, Puskas and Gento hogged the limelight, Santamaria’s authority and leadership ensured the presence of a watertight defence.
Santamaria was a late bloomer.
He signed for the Blancos in 1957 at the age of 28. He was a rock solid and technically proficient defender. He never shied away from a tackle or two and was very strong in the air. He earned the nickname “The Wall” as he started to put in one excellent defensive display after another. Santamaria ended his highly decorated career in 1966 having won five La Liga titles, four European Cup title, a Copa Del Rey and an Intercontinental Cup, amassing more than 300 appearances on the way.
Roberto Carlos (LB) – Brazil
“He’s a fantastic player, with amazing skill, and does things at left-back that no other player in that position would contemplate.” – Henrik Larsson
Offence or More Offence?
Bullet Shots or Exquisite Dribbling?
Roberto Carlos or Marcelo?
While writing this piece I had this huge selection dilemma. One Brazilian was part of the dominant Madrid side of the late 90s and early 2000s while the other Brazilian was part of the dominant Madrid side that won three Champions League titles in a row. But Carlos was better. No Marcelo is better. No Carlos was. After hours of comparison and self contradiction, I chose…Roberto Carlos!
To sum it up, Roberto Carlos is one of the greatest full-backs of all time and perhaps, THE greatest. Although a bit slack defensively, he made up for it being a dynamic presence at left back, making surging runs forward. His explosiveness, strength and desire to go forward made him a constant offensive threat. He was renowned for his super powerful shots that often defied the laws of physics. One of his shots clocked a ridiculous 105 miles per hour speed!
For Real Madrid, Carlos made over 370 appearances, winning the La Liga four times and the Champions League three times, not to mention the various other individual laurels. He was an absolute joy to watch!
Hugo Sanchez (RF) – Mexico
“When a player scores a goal like that, play should be suspended and a glass of champagne offered to the 80,000 fans that witnessed it.” – Leo Beenhakker (referring to Sánchez’s overhead kick goal against Logroñés in 1988)
Widely regarded as the greatest Mexican footballer of all time, “The Pentapichichi” Hugo Sanchez was an absolutely dazzling footballer. The Mexican oozed charisma whenever he entered the field. A delight to watch, Sanchez was known for his acrobatic, gravity-bending screamers.
He is considered to be the creator of the iconic Scorpion Kick.
Sanchez joined Real Madrid in 1985. In the subsequent five years, Sanchez went on the establish himself as one of the best forwards in the world and the best in Spain. His flamboyancy on the pitch garnered him universal praise. He played an instrumental role in one of Madrid’s the most successful periods.
The club won five consecutive La Liga titles from 1985-1990 and Sanchez won the Pichichi trophy in four of these years. Along with this, he reached the semi finals of semi finals of the European Cup four times, won a UEFA Cup and a Copa Del Rey, not to mention the numerous individual awards he raked in. He left the Blancos in 1992 after more than 200 appearances, imprinting his legacy as one of the greatest ever forwards to play for them.
Toni Kroos (CM) – Germany
“He does everything right. The pace in his passes is great and he sees everything. It’s nearly perfect.” – Johan Cruyff
Looking back, it is flabbergasting that Bayern Munich let a once-in-a-generation talent Toni Kroos go for a paltry 25 Million Euros. I would not be far-fetched in saying that for Real Madrid, it was perhaps the “Steal of the Century”.
There might not be a better passer in world football right now than Kroos.
Since signing for Real Madrid, Kroos has had more than a 90% pass completion rate in every single game he has played for the club. This is ridiculously good! He may not have the grace of Luka Modric or the bite of Casemiro but, the game flows through the German. Few players have the ability to single-handedly dictate the tempo of a game. Kroos is one of them.
Kroos was unveiled as a Real Madrid player in 2014. Since then, he has been a part of the most dominant midfield of the last decade, along with Casemiro and Luka Modric. He has made over 190 appearances for the club, winning the La Liga twice, the Champions League thrice and the Club World Cup four times. When he leaves Madrid, he will go down in the history books as one of their greatest, if he has not gained that status already.
Luka Modric (CM) – Croatia
“He’s a complete player. Good in defence, good in offence. It looks like he was born with the ball at his feet” – Slaven Bilić
From 2008 to 2018, for 10 long years, no one but the duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi won the prestigious Ballon d’Or. The likes of Andres Iniesta, Franck Ribery and Manuel Neuer provided tough competition but the dominance was not broken until 2018, when a boy from the war torn regions of Zagreb, Croatia beat the duo to win the award. The boy is Luka Modric.
Modric is an absolutely wonderful footballer. He is a complete midfielder. He can be deployed in a box to box role, as a holding midfielder or as a number 10. He has got the grace of an Andres Iniesta, the passing of a Xavi Hernandez and the workrate of an Ngolo Kante.
Words fail me, to describe how mesmerizing a player he was at his peak.
At the end of 2012, Luka Modric was voted as the “Worst Signing of the Season” by Marca. In 2020, he is considered as one of the greatest to ever play for the Blancos. Over the span of eight years, the Croatian went from being a “flop” to being the “Gold Standard”.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – LW
“He is the best. The best in the world, yes. Probably the best ever. I saw Maradona a couple of times. I never saw Pele. But Cristiano is amazing. This man is the best. Cristiano is a goal machine. He is an incredible player.” – Jose Mourinho
At Manchester United, as I mentioned in the previous article, we saw Cristiano Ronaldo, the enigma. At Real Madrid, we saw Cristiano Ronaldo, the Assasin. During his period in Madrid, the kid from Madeira evolved from “The Best in the World” to “The Best in History”.
I don’t know what to say about Cristiano. Everyone knows how phenomenal a player he is. His ludicrous stats, absurd longevity and sheer talent all speaks for themselves. But, a rather underrated facet of Cristiano’s game is his adaptability.
During his tenure in Manchester United and first 3-4 years in Madrid, he was a dynamic presence in the wing, with astounding pace and mind-boggling footwork. But, since the 2014-15 season, as age caught up with him, something changed. The Portuguese drastically altered his football. From a dribbling winger, he transformed into a ruthless, goal scoring machine.
Nowadays, even though he starts from the wing, he is more of a centre forward and dribbles much lesser than he used to. This way, Cristiano has made himself more effective for the team and rather than slowing down after crossing 30, he improved and has become a better footballer. This is evident by the fact that since this transformation, Real Madrid went on the win three consecutive Champions League titles.
450 goals from 438 games is an utterly bonkers record. The Greatest Footballer of All Time? Probably.
Alfredo Di Stefano (CF) – Argentina
“People argue between Pele or Maradona. Di Stéfano is the best, much more complete.” – Pele
If someone asks me what the biggest “What If” moment in the history of football is, I’ll reply “What if Alfredo Di Stefano played for FC Barcelona?”
In the summer of 1954, Catalan businessman Domingo Valls Taberner ensured that he did everything in his power to bring Alfredo Di Stefano to Catalunya. FC Barcelona struck a deal with River Plate and the transfer was a rather complicated one.
However, with all procedures done, Di Stefano was officially unveiled as an FC Barcelona Player. But fate had other ideas. But, due to reasons unclear to date, and involvement from the infamous General Franco, the Argentine became a player for another club. Real Madrid CF.
Don Alfredo was footballing perfection. Talent, pace, vision, you name it, he had it. He could defend, he could attack, he could score, he could assist. To sum it up, he had everything. Literally everything!
With Don Alfredo, Real Madrid skyrocketed to the pinnacle. He spearheaded the greatest Real Madrid side of all time. Over the span of 10 years, from 1954 to 1964, this side won eight league titles and the first five European Cups in succession. Club football has not had a side that is this dominant since.
Other than Cristiano Ronaldo, there is no other player who can challenge Don Alfredo’s claim to be the greatest Blanco ever. Simple as that.
Ferenc Puskas (CF) – Hungary
“Ferenc truly was just a wonderful player. He had a roly-poly physique but a wonderful left-foot and he was a brilliant finisher. I would put Puskas in any list of all-time greats. A wonderful player and a wonderful person and he really enjoyed playing the game.” – Sir Tom Finney
Ferenc Puskas averaged more than a goal per game throughout his career. “The Galloping Horse” had lightning quick pace, great vision and a cannonbolt of a left foot. When joined Real Madrid in 1958, he had not played football for two years and was 31 years old.
He was supposed to be “past his peak”. But he was as lethal for the Blancos as he was in Hungary. He scored goals for fun. One of his best performances came in the 1950 European Cup final, as he smashed four in a 7-3 thumping of Eintracht Frankfurt. He had an outlandish 242 goals from 262 appearances at Real Madrid along with five league titles and three European Cups.
During the 50s and 60s, Real Madrid boasted an attacking line of Alfredo Di Stefano, Paco Gento and Ferenc Puskas. Has there been a more fearful attack in football than this one? I seriously doubt it.