When we think of the great players, in particular the great strikers, to grace the stadiums of La Liga it’s easy to conjure up names from around the globe. And, of course, for good reason. Few leagues in world football can boast such a cosmopolitan array of talent throughout history with the greatest talents from all continents making their mark. They trip off the tongue don’t they: Messi, Puskas, Laudrup, Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldo (x2), Sanchez or Eto’o – to name just a handful.
And so it’s unsurprising perhaps, that among this who’s who of great global names, we can sometimes forget that there’s been a long and famous list of home-spun heroes who’ve led the line and produced goal-scoring feats to rival them all.
Butragueno, or The Vulture, was a home-grown talent among a litany of global names with Real Madrid during the 1980s, leading line for both club and country for much of the decade and becoming a legendary name in the annals of both Real and the international set-up.
Forming a deadly partnership up front with Mexican legend Hugo Sanchez in the mid to late-80s Butragueno’s skill and predatory instincts helped Real to five league titles and two UEFA cup triumphs over the period as he amassed 129 goals in his 341 appearances. However, it was for Spain that arguably he enjoyed his greatest moment on the football field, as he almost single-handedly broke the hearts of a brilliant Danish side, bagging 4 goals in a 5-1 demolition at World Cup ’86.
Real Madrid’s infamous galacticos era of the late 90s / early 00s may have been dominated by huge signings and famous names from around the globe but the fact remains that the true idol and folk hero of the side at the time came from a little closer to home. Born and bred within the city limits Raul Gonzalez, or simply Raul to his adoring fans, was a youth footballer at city rivals Atletico before moving to Real shortly before turning professional in 1994. In the 16 years that followed Raul would grow to be one of the greatest strikers in the club’s history and a legendary name at the club. With 323 goals to his name along with a litany of honours including multiple league and Champions League titles Raul’s name ranks high on any list of the greatest strikers of his era, from any country.
Until a certain Argentinian going by the name of Messi came along, Zarra was the name at the very top of the all-time scoring charts in the Spanish League. A native of the Basque region Zarra spent the bulk of his career in the colours of his local side Athletic Bilbao. Over the course of 15 years from 1940 to 1955 Zarra netted 251 goals in the league, a record that would remain unchallenged for almost 60 years until Messi surpassed him in November 2014. Add to the fact that he also managed 89 goals in the Spanish Cup (a record that still stands) as well as a more than impressive 20 goals in 20 games for Spain (including the goal which beat England en route to the semi-finals of World Cup 1950) then this oft forgotten name in Spanish football should rightly be honourably mentioned in any list of great Spanish goal-scorers.
Slightly more contemporary is the diminutive striker whose goals helped Spain to World Cup and European Championship glory between 2008 and 2012. Having first come to prominence with Real Zaragoza it was with Valencia where Villa’s brilliance really came into its own, bagging 25 goals in 35 matches, including a devastating 5 minute hat-trick against Athletic Bilbao) during his debut season 05-06. Villa would spearhead the Valencia attack for the next four seasons with his goal-scoring exploits ousting the legend that was Raul (see above) from Spain’s starting 11. As controversial as that might have been, Villa would justify the faith at Euro ’08, being crowned the tournament’s top scorer as Spain went on to win the title.
Villa would move to Barcelona at the start of the 2010-11 season, helping the Catalonians to one of the greatest seasons in their history. Forming a deadly strike-force alongside Messi et al Villa helped Barca sweep all-comers as they romped to the league title and then scoring one of the teams 3 in their demolition of Manchester United in the Champions League Final.