As one of the most decorated clubs in the history of world football, it’s fair to say that Real Madrid have had many a ‘big game player’ representing the club over the years. How else would they have managed to win a record 13 European Cups?
With honourable mentions to club legends such as Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás (a player so good that FIFA named an award after him), this list will focus more towards the modern day greats that have inspired Los Blancos to more recent successes.
With so many wonderful names to choose from, here are the seven players who produced match-winning performances on the biggest stage for Real Madrid.
7. Fernando Hierro
The legendary Real Madrid skipper was a stalwart at the back for 14 years at the Santiago Bernabéu, playing over 600 games for the club.
During that time, Hierro won five La Liga titles, and three Champions League trophies. His knack of scoring goals often prompted his managers to select him in a more advanced role as a holding midfielder.
And who will ever forget seeing the Spaniard play in a Bolton Wanderers shirt in 2004/05?
Biggest Moment: His brilliant display in the 1998 Champions League final, as Madrid beat Juventus 1-0. “Where is Del Piero?” sang the Madrid fans of the Old Lady’s star striker. “Hierro has eaten him!”
6. Iker Casillas
Perhaps the greatest goalkeeper in Real Madrid’s history. Casillas began his career in Los Blancos’ youth system, but he didn’t have to wait long before being first called up to the senior side at the tender age of 16. The Spanish stopper made the number one spot his own at 18 years old, and kept it for well over a decade thereafter.
With an identical record to Hierro above, Casillas won five La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies with the club. But unlike Hierro, Casillas also managed to win international honours with Spain too – bagging the 2010 World Cup, sandwiched in between two European Championship wins, during his 167 international caps.
Biggest Moment: La Decima. Casillas was pivotal in the 2014 Champions League final, where he captained the side against local rivals Atlético Madrid in Lisbon. After 120 minutes of action, the goalkeeper got his hands on the trophy and helped end the club’s 12-year wait for European glory.
5. Sergio Ramos
The man that so many love to hate. Sergio Ramos is notorious for his poor disciplinary record, with 26 career red cards, but is equally renowned for his incredible defensive abilities and leadership skills.
While the Spaniard is often derided for the number of times he’s been given his marching orders, it’s the tenacious part of his game which makes him one of the most feared defenders in world football, and one that strikers really don’t enjoy playing against (just ask Mo Salah).
Ramos has been hoarding trophies ever since his move to Madrid from Seville in 2005, winning
four La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns.
Biggest Moment: Scored the 93rd minute equaliser against Atlético Madrid in the 2014 Champions League final with a leaping header. It was the most crucial moment in Madrid’s conquest of La Decima as it knocked the stuffing out of Atlético, and Los Blancos went on to win 4-1 in extra-time.
4. Gareth Bale
While Sergio Ramos might lay claim to being the most disliked Real Madrid player outside of the club, Gareth Bale most certainly holds the title of most disliked player inside the club. And all because the Welshman enjoys a little too much golf, and struggles with the Spanish lingo, apparently.
From an outsider’s perspective, it seems unfathomable that Bale is not revered at Real Madrid. He played a huge role in the club’s historic run of three consecutive Champions League victories, and four in five years. The Real Madrid supporters are a funny bunch, aren’t they?
Before we get to Bale’s most defining moment in a Real Madrid shirt (which you may have guessed from the photo), it’s worth noting that this is a man who has delivered time and time again on the big stage. Who can forget that blistering run from his own half as he scored the winning goal in the 2014 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona? Or when he put his side 2-1 ahead in extra-time of the 2014 Champions League final? But yeah, go ahead and boo him!
Biggest Moment: That bicycle kick against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final. With the game finely poised at 1-1, Bale came off the bench and became the first substitute to score twice in a Champions League final, winning himself the man of the match award, and Real Madrid their 13th European Cup.
Before a certain Portuguese forward joined the club, Raul was the top goalscorer in Real Madrid history – notching an incredible 323 goals.
While his goals tally may have been bettered in recent years, no one can match him for appearances, as the Spanish striker played a staggering 741 times for Los Blancos – a true club legend.
Raul won six La Liga titles, and three European Cups during his 16 years of service to the club.
Biggest Moment: Scored the opening goal in the 2002 Champions League final victory against Bayer Leverkusen, and in doing so became the first player to score in two Champions League finals.
2. Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane has contributed more to Real Madrid’s illustrious history than most. Winning three Champions League trophies as manager is an incredible achievement in itself, but he was also at the peak of his powers during his playing days at the club.
When signing for Madrid from Juventus in 2001, Zizou was indisputably one of the greatest players on the planet. He never failed to live up to the billing at the Bernabeu, winning the Champions League in 2002 and La Liga in 2003, as well as winning the FIFA World Player of the Year award for a third time that same year.
Biggest Moment: Scored what many consider to be the greatest European Cup final goal of all time against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002. As Roberto Carlos’ lofted cross from the left hand side fell from the heavens, Zidane swivelled his body and hit the most magnificent left-footed volley from the edge of the area.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
Was there ever any doubt as to who would be topping this list?
Breaking every goal scoring record imaginable, Cristiano Ronaldo is one of, if not the, greatest footballers of all time. He ran riot during his time at Los Blancos, scoring an eye-watering 450 goals in 438 games.
The Portuguese forward has won five Champions League trophies in total (four at Real Madrid), and is a five-time winner of the prestigious Ballon d’Or award.
Biggest Moment: The two goals he scored in the 2017 Champions League final, setting Real Madrid on their way to a 4-1 win over Juventus, and helping the side become the first team in the Champions League era to retain the trophy.