• We have picked out the 10 best defenders in La Liga history

  • Overlapping full-backs to no-nonsense centre halves, some big names have missed out

  • Who are the best defenders in La Liga history? 

Lionheart defending isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of La Liga. That lazy stereotype soon fades when pondering the best defenders in La Liga history, however.

Some were warriors, others were ball-playing maestros at the back. Some were likely to be a first goal scorer in online football betting, others rarely ventured outside their own half.

Regardless, we had a tough time narrowing it down to the 10 greatest La Liga defenders of all-time. Here are our picks…

10) Manuel Sanchís

Manuel Sanchís sits seventh all-time in La Liga appearances, all of which came with Real Madrid. Sanchís was a technician of the highest order and possessed exceptional football IQ, ensuring he was seldom found out of position.

Primarily a sweeper during his peak years, Sanchís appeared in 36 or more games for Real Madrid in every season between 1984-85 and 1995-96.

A model of consistency throughout, he was crowned Spanish Footballer of the Year in 1989-90 and won eight La Liga titles.

9) Ronald Koeman

Joining Johan Cruyff at Barcelona in 1989, Ronald Koeman was a part of the spine of the ‘Dream Team’.


Best remembered in Spain for his free-kick to win Barcelona’s first European Cup, Koeman’s set piece prowess led to 88 goals in 264 appearances for the Catalan giants.

On top of his goal scoring, though, Koeman was an accomplished defensive player. He was unafraid of a crunching tackle, and his calmness in possession was exactly what Cruyff was looking for from his defensive players.

The Dutchman didn’t exactly thrive in La Liga predictions when he was Barcelona manager, but he remains a club legend for his performances on the pitch.

8) Sergio Ramos

Only nine players have amassed more La Liga appearances than Sergio Ramos. Starting out at Sevilla and often playing at right-back in his early seasons with Real, it took a few years for Ramos to become a regular in central defence.

Once given the chance, though, Ramos never let go. His discipline was an issue at times – which has been a constant theme throughout his career – but Ramos was a favourite of the Bernabeu faithful.

While suspensions left some frustrated, and he was rash at times, Ramos’ commitment could never be questioned and he had a tendency to come up with his best when his team most needed it (at both ends of the pitch).

The 11 selections to the FIFPro World XI illustrates how Ramos compared to his peers. He’s one of the best defenders in La Liga history, and has a case as the best defender of the 21st century.

7) Roberto Carlos

Admittedly a liberal use of ‘defender’, Roberto Carlos was on team sheets as a left-back even if his play leaned heavily towards attack.

The 100mph+ free kicks are part of the Carlos legend, yet focusing too heavily on the dead-ball efforts reduces his all-round talent.

The Brazilian was an exceptional dribbler with a great engine – he had an eye for a cross and at his peak, possessed the pace to leave defenders behind.

Four La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues only tells part of the story. Carlos was a Ballon d’Or runner-up in 2002 and earned seven ESM Team of the Year selections.

6) Gerard Pique

When Gerard Pique returned to Barcelona for just £5 million in 2008, no one could have envisaged how his career would pan out.

Pique’s strong tackling, anticipation and comfort in possession was perfect for Pep Guardiola. His game complemented Carles Puyol – his skillset was exactly what Guardiola needed to implement Barca’s tiki-taka.

The glory in La Liga betting odds and beyond followed. Eight league titles is one thing, but the five selections to the UEFA Team of the Year says more about Pique’s performances in his second Barcelona stint.

5) Dani Alves

Defending was rarely Dani Alves’ priority, but we can’t leave out a player who was as brilliant as he was on those all-conquering Barcelona teams.

Alves was a primary creator for Pep Guardiola’s team, and he developed supreme chemistry with Lionel Messi.

In fact, Messi is the only non-Spaniard with more La Liga appearances than Alves. He arrived in Catalunya on the back of one of the biggest La Liga transfers, following six strong seasons with Sevilla.

The Brazilian was named La Liga Defender of the Season in 2008-09 and earned five UEFA Team of the Year nods. With five Copa del Rey wins and six La Ligas, Alves’ CV is as good as any.

4) Marcelo

Just like his predecessor Roberto Carlos, Marcelo’s brilliance was primarily in his attacking work, but as a left-back, he qualifies for his list.

Marcelo brought flair to the position. His skillset could easily have made him an attacking midfielder or winger at some other clubs.

Instead, Real used him as a potent force down the left flank, which was particularly effective with Cristiano Ronaldo drifting inside.

Playing over 500 times for Real, the Brazilian has five La Liga titles and four Champions League wins to his name. The individual honours are just as impressive, including six selections to the FIFPro World XI and a place in the IFFHS Team of the Decade.

3) Fernando Hierro

Ultimately playing over 600 times for Real Madrid, Fernando Hierro overcame doubters as a youngster. Málaga told him he wasn’t good enough, but within a few seasons, he was an essential member of Real Madrid’s first team.

Broad-shouldered and standing at 6’2, Hierro was imposing, and he made good use of that stature with a fearless attitude in any challenge.

Paired with a limitless range of passing, the Spaniard was immensely effective in and out of possession. He won five La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues. Plus, the Málaga native made it to three straight FIFA XIs in the late 1990s.

2) José Santamaría

Montevideo native José Santamaría played for Real Madrid between 1957 and 1996.

While Los Blancos were winning at an historic rate behind the play of Alfredo di Stefano and others, Santamaría was doing the ugly stuff, leaving plenty of bruises on his opponents.

He earned the nickname ‘The Wall’, such was his rock-hard defensive style. Winning La Liga six times and lifting the European Cup on six occasions, Santamaría was one of the premier defenders of his time.

1) Carles Puyol

This one doesn’t need much explanation.

From right-back in his early years to talismanic central defender, Carles Puyol was the heart of Barcelona as they won three Champions Leagues in six seasons and he collected winners’ medals with Spain at the 2008 Euros and 2010 World Cup.

While not as gifted as some of his La Masia peers in possession, Puyol had an insatiable will to win. He worked harder than anyone else, and would never let his focus drop, even if leading by several goals.

Those Barcelona teams were majestic, but Puyol’s presence just took them to another level defensively, making them pretty much unbeatable in La Liga betting tips.


Sam is a sports tipster, specialising in the Premier League and Champions League.

He covers most sports, including cricket and Formula One. Sam particularly enjoys those on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean – notably MLB and NBA.

Watching, writing and talking about sports betting takes up most of his time, whether that is for a day out at T20 Finals Day or a long night of basketball.

Having been writing for several years, Sam has been working with 888Sport since 2016, contributing multiple articles per week to the blog.