Barcelona and Real Madrid’s combined top 20 players since 2000

  • Rob Swan

Barcelona and Real Madrid will go head-to-head for the 243rd time on Wednesday evening.

The two fierce rivals meet at Camp Nou, level on points at the top of the La Liga table.

It’s the fixture that has featured most world-class footballers than any other in recent decades – but who are the best players to have played for either club since 2000?

We’ve taken quality, achievements and longevity into consideration.

Ranking them was a far from straightforward task – it will inevitably divide opinion – and some big names have missed out. Honourable mentions go to the likes of Gareth Bale, Fabio Cannavaro, Claude Makelele and Marcelo. Now let’s crack on with the list…

20. Karim Benzema

Still underrated and under-appreciated by a lot of people, Benzema was an absolute bargain at €35 million. That’s the price Real Madrid paid Lyon to sign him in the summer of 2009.

Ten years later and the French striker has scored 238 goals in 486 games and won a host of major honours.

An unselfish striker, Benzema has played a pivotal role in the success Madrid have enjoyed this decade and is hugely admired by the coaches and teammates he’s worked alongside.

Without Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo would not have scored as many goals for Los Blancos.

19. Roberto Carlos

Roberto Carlos changed the way modern-day full-backs operate over the course of his Real Madrid career.

He constantly attacked, regularly supported the team’s forwards, dominated the entire left-hand side of the pitch and even took set-pieces. He was one-of-a-kind at the time and one of the most exciting footballers on the planet.

The Brazil international won a handful of titles during the early-2000s before leaving the Bernabeu for Fenerbahce in 2007.

He will always be remembered as one of football’s most legendary full-backs.

18. Neymar

In terms of pure footballing talent, Neymar is right up there with the very best players on this list.

But the fact he only spent four years with Barcelona before leaving La Liga for Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 means we can’t rank him much higher.

It would be a surprise if we don’t see the world-class Brazilian forward back in Spain’s top-flight one day in the future – either at Barça or Real Madrid – and there’s no denying he was a big hit in La Liga.

He won the league twice at Camp Nou, plus three Copas del Rey and the Champions League.

17. Gerard Pique

Plucked from Barcelona’s youth academy by Manchester United in 2004, Pique returned to Camp Nou four years later and went on to establish his status as one of the club’s greatest ever defenders.

Over the past 11 years, Pique has played a key role in Barça winning eight La Liga titles, six Copas del Rey, and three Champions Leagues.

Madrid fans don’t particularly like him – he never misses an opportunity to take a cheeky dig at Barcelona’s fierce rivals – but even they would surely admit that he’s been a huge asset for the Catalan giants.

It wouldn’t be a shock if he eventually becomes the club’s president one day.

16. Iker Casillas

Arguably the greatest goalkeeper of his generation, Casillas was world-class throughout the 2000s.

A product of the club’s youth academy, Casillas was on the books of Los Blancos from 1990 all the way up to 2015, when he said an emotional farewell to the Bernabeu before continuing his career at FC Porto.

Only Raul has made more appearances for Madrid than Casillas, who won five league titles and three Champions Leagues during his stay.

15. Carles Puyol

Look up ‘warrior’ in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of Barcelona’s legendary captain Carles Puyol.

The centre-back was as talismanic as they come and is the longest-serving captain in the club’s history, wearing the skipper’s armband between 2004 and 2014.

Like all great captains, Puyol inspired those around him, led by example on and off the pitch and ensured that standards never slipped.

It goes without saying that he was also a top-class defender and even popped up with 18 goals during his 593 appearances.

14. Luis Figo

Figo completed one of the most controversial moves in recent football history by switching Barcelona for Real Madrid in the summer of 2000.

The Portugal international’s decision to leave Camp Nou for the Bernabeu infuriated culés, who despised him from that moment forward. We all remember the Clasico where a fan threw a pig’s head at the world-class winger.

But what a player. At his peak, he was undoubtedly one of the world’s best footballers.

He won two La Liga titles and the Champions League during his five years with Los Blancos, plus the Ballon d’Or – and the fact he angered Barcelona fans so much only endeared him further to Madridistas.

13. Luka Modric

Modric was strongly linked with a move away from the Bernabeu towards the end of his first season with Los Blancos following his initial struggles.

The Croatia international was infamously named La Liga’s worst signing for the 2012/13 campaign months after joining the Spanish giants from Tottenham, but turned his form around in spectacular fashion over the next few seasons and must now be considered as one of Madrid’s greatest ever midfielders.

Modric has won four Champions League winners’ medals and, most impressively of all, the Ballon d’Or during his time in the Spanish capital.

In 2018, Modric became the first player since Kaka in 2007 to win the prestigious individual accolade who wasn’t named either Messi or Ronaldo – and for that alone, he deserves his place among the other greats on this list.

12. Dani Alves

The most decorated player in football history, Dani Alves has won a staggering 43 trophies at the time of writing. Twenty-three of those trophies (over half) were collected during his eight-year spell at Camp Nou.

Roberto Carlos may have been the one who transformed the role of the modern-day full-back, but Alves is the man responsible for taking it to the next level.

The dynamic and indefatigable Brazil international made Barça’s entire right-flank his own for years, while his interplay with the team’s forwards – especially Messi – was unusually good for a full-back.

Since leaving Barcelona, Alves has gone on to win further trophies at Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, and currently plies his trade back in Brazil with Sao Paulo.

11. Raul

One of the most loved players in Real Madrid’s history, Raul scored 323 goals for Los Blancos, making him the club’s second-highest goalscorer of all time.

He is also the club’s record appearance holder, having played 741 times for the club between 1994-2010.

For many Madridistas, Raul will always be Mr. Real Madrid and the man who most epitomises the club.

10. Luis Suarez

There’s no doubt that Barcelona took a gamble signing Suarez back in the summer of 2014, just weeks after the Uruguayan striker had received a four-month ban for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini – the third biting incident of his controversial career.

The Catalan club splashed out £75 million to sign the troubled South American star, whose spell at Anfield had been marred by various misdemeanours.

But the gamble paid off handsomely. In 268 games, Suarez has scored 188 games. He’s largely kept himself out of trouble at Camp Nou, has struck up a great friendship with Messi, and helped the club win a flurry of trophies.

Suarez has scored at least 25 goals every season at Barça, while his best tally was a remarkable 59 goals during the 2015/16 campaign.

9. Sergio Busquets

Still underrated by some football fans – those who don’t watch enough of him, anyway – Busquets has been a crucial player for Barcelona since 2008.

Like so many of his current and former teammates, the midfielder has lived by the motto ‘take the ball, pass the ball’ throughout his career. He makes football look so simple when it’s anything but.

Busquets, now 31, has won eight La Liga titles, six Copas del Rey and three Champions Leagues.

He probably won’t be remembered in the same way Xavi and Iniesta are now, but you can bet your bottom dollar that his teammates will never forget what it was like playing alongside such a great footballer.

8. Sergio Ramos

Things are never dull whenever Ramos is around. The guy is pure box office.

Now in his 15th season as a Real Madrid player, the all-action centre-back has scored an incredible 89 goals for Los Blancos and been sent off more times than anyone else in the club’s history.

The Spaniard is also the most carded player in La Liga history.

But, most importantly, he’s a winner. Ramos, like many others on this list, boasts a huge collection of medals. The 33-year-old has also captained the European heavyweights since 2015, replacing Casillas as the team’s skipper.

7. Ronaldo

Ronaldo’s ability during the early years of his career was like nothing we’d ever seen before. He was almost scarily good.

Maybe he would now be regarded as the greatest of all time had he not suffered from those career-threatening injuries around the turn of the century.

That he overcame those injuries and went on to score 104 goals in 177 games for Real Madrid is testament to his extraordinary talent.

It’s a shame, though, that he only managed to win a single La Liga title – along with an Intercontinental Cup and a Spanish Super Cup – during his time at the Bernabeu.

6. Zinedine Zidane

It feels wrong putting Zidane this low down the list because the Frenchman is obviously one of the best footballers of all time.

But we can’t overlook the fact he only won one La Liga title and one Champions League during his five years at the Bernabeu. That trophy haul pales in comparison to those above him on this list.

Furthermore, Zidane never reached double figures for league goals in any of his five seasons with Los Blancos and had spells where he went off the boil.

But when he hit top gear there was nobody better on the planet. Zidane was a phenomenon with the ability to turn football into an art form.

5. Andres Iniesta

A glorious Rolls Royce of a player who always turned up in the big games, Iniesta will forever be remembered as one of football’s greats.

The Spanish midfielder, who scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final, played 674 times for Barcelona, scoring 57 goals and registering countless assists.

A classy operator both on and off the pitch, Iniesta will be welcomed back to the Camp Nou with open arms whenever he returns in the future.

4. Xavi

Arguably the best Spanish midfielder ever, Xavi was the player responsible for making Guardiola’s legendary Barcelona side tick.

The World Cup winner never seemed to misplace a pass and would choose the right option 99 times out of 100 when in possession. It was also incredibly rare to see him lose the ball.

Whenever ‘tiki-taka’ is mentioned, it’s hard not to immediately think of Xavi.

3. Ronaldinho

The best player in the world during the mid-2000s, Ronaldinho is one of the most exciting and flamboyant footballers we’ve ever seen.

The Brazilian playmaker scored 94 goals in 207 games for the Catalan giants and won the Ballon d’Or in 2005.

He always played with a smile on his face and puts smiles on the faces of millions of football fans around the world.

A genius but it’s hard not to feel that he could – and should – have achieved even more.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

This will inevitably upset many of Ronaldo’s hardcore fans, but to finish second on this star-studded list is still a massive achievement.

What the Portuguese forward accomplished at the Bernabeu following his £80 million move from Manchester United in 2009 was nothing short of extraordinary.

In 438 games, he scored a mind-blowing 450 goals. He also won four Champions Leagues during his nine-year spell in the Spanish capital.

Perhaps one slight disappointment is the fact he only managed to win two La Liga titles with Los Blancos.

But despite that, Ronaldo will always be remembered as one of the best – if not *the* best – players in Real Madrid’s history.

1. Lionel Messi

The greatest footballer of all time? Quite possibly.

The greatest Real Madrid or Barcelona player since 2000? Undoubtedly.

Attempting to describe the impact Messi has had on football – let alone Barcelona – is nigh-on impossible. It’s hard to imagine what football will be like after the six-time Ballon d’Or winner retires.

Now 32 years old, Messi has scored an astonishing 617 goals in 702 games for Barça and won just about every major trophy – both team and individual – you can think of.

How on earth do Barça thank him when he eventually hangs up the boots? A statue by itself won’t be enough.

Naming the Camp Nou to Camp Messi, perhaps?

Replacing him will be impossible.

Whether you support Real Madrid or Barcelona, or even if you’re a neutral, you have to stand back and appreciate how many truly great footballers have played for the two clubs since 2000.

They’re the reason the Clasico is currently the biggest and most-loved fixture in the football calendar.

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