The 2000s started similar to the way the 90s ended, with Barcelona and Real Madrid sharing honors for club titles. But his time around the talent was mixed with more international stars leading the pack. Without further introduction, here are our top 11 players in the 2000s.
Signing from archrival Barcelona in 2000, Luis Figo scored 38 goals in 163 appearances for Real Madrid over his five-year career with the club. Playing alongside Zidane and Ronaldo, he received the Ballon d’Or in 2000, winning a Champions League and two La Ligas.
The Brazilian defender played 527 times for Los Blancos, making his name as one of the best left-back in history. He also made a name for himself as a free-kick specialist, known for blasting rockets at goal. Carlos finished his Real career winning four domestic league trophies and three Champions Leagues.
At the heart of the midfield, Xavi joined partners Iniesta and Busquets as one of the most dynamic midfield trios in football history. A creative visionary, Xavi epitomized the short pass and move philosophy of the tiki-taka. In his 17 year spell for the Catalonia side, he won 8 Spanish titles, 6 Copa Del Rey, and 4 Champions League trophies.
An inspiring leader and hard worker at high back, Carles Puyol captained the Barca side for a decade, winning six La Liga titles and 3 Champions League trophies. On a team of superstars, he may not have been the flashiest player but he was the most committed, spreading a contagious winning attitude.
Considered one of the greatest Spanish players for all time for his ball control and a knack for goal, Raul broke into the Real Madrid first team as a 17-year-old. The rest is history. He spent 16 years with Los Blancos, scoring 323 goals which rank him fifth on the all-time scoring La Liga list behind Ronaldo and Messi. The 6-time La Liga Champion also starred in 3 Champions League wins and four Spanish Super Cups.
Often considered one of the best to ever play the game, the gifted Brazilian dribbler known quite simply as Ronaldinho scored 70 goals for the Catalan side over five seasons. He remains the only player other than Maradona to have received a round of applause from Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu. The smiling superstar won both a Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the year after winning Champions League and second La Liga title 2005.
The Argentine striker signed with Atleti at the age of 18, playing 234 games across competitions and scoring 101 times. While it took the forward a couple years to cement the combination of superior pace, technique, and versatility, he nonetheless stepped up in the departure of Fernando Torres to Liverpool and helped the team win the Europa League and UEFA Super Cup in 2010. It was Aguero’s excellence at Atleti that set up him for continued success in the Premier League.
The technically gifted and imposing Spanish striker Fernando Torres made a splash at Atlético Madrid, helping the team climb out of the second division into Spain’s first league. He netted 91 goals in 244 games before deciding to test new waters in the Premier League. He returned to Atleti in 2014 where he’s earned an additional 160 caps and scored 38 more goals. He also helped lead the side to its third Europa League trophy in 2018.
A replacement for the departing Fernando Torres, the Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan made an immediate impact in his first year. In addition to being the league’s top scorer in the 2008-2009 season, he also scored the all-important goals in 2008 and 2009 that qualified Atleti for back to back Champions League appearances. He earned 196 caps with Atlético Madrid and netted 96 times, 6 of which were scored en route to the 2010 Europe League trophy.
After winning two Serie A titles at Juventus, the Frenchman signed for Real Madrid in 2001 as the club’s second Galáctico for a world record transfer of 77.5 Euros. Zidane’s impact was immediate, scoring a hallmark volley with his left foot in the Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen. He won La Liga the following year, along with his Ballon d’Or. One of the greatest footballers of all time, he retired in 2006 with 155 appearances and 37 goals. As Real Madrid’s coach for nearly 3 years, Zidane won 3 Champions Leagues and one La Liga, equaling nine trophies in total.
Torching all opposition with his technique, spins, and speed, Lionel Messi has recorded scored a remarkable 387 goals (most ever in La Liga) for the Catalan side, in addition to 150 assists. He’s also tied in a record-setting 5 Ballon d’Ors and led the stripes to 9 domestic league titles, 6 Copa Del Rey, and 4 champions league titles.
Setting a record fee of 80 million pounds upon his transfer from Manchester United, the striker made a monumental impact on Los Blancos over a nine-year stretch. The Portuguese forward surpassed Raul, the previous number seven, with 450 goals of his own on 438 appearances, averaging over one per game. A five-time Champions League winner, a two-time Spanish league champ, the four-time Ballon d'Or winner as a member of Los Blancos, Ronaldo is one of the greatest to ever play the game.