Real Madrid were awarded as the greatest club of the 20th century and why wouldn’t they have been? After all, they had won the Champions League 8 times in that timeframe, making them the most successful club in Europe in the 20th century.
Things started well for them in this millennium as they won the Champions League in 2000 and then again in 2002. Just three years into the new millennium and the Galacticos had already two European titles to their name.
After that, however, they had to endure a barren run that went on for 12 years. By 2014, winning the 10th Champions League title became an obsession for the Merengues and when they finally achieved that in 2014, Madridistas all around the world were ecstatic.
The curse had been broken, the ketchup bottle had been opened as after that, the Blancos won three more Champions League titles to take their tally to 13 – which is almost twice as much as the next on the list AC Milan, who have conquered Europe 7 times.
To win so many times, a club needs some of the best players in the world and so far in this millennium, Real Madrid haven’t had a dearth of that. Indeed, some of the most legendary players graced the pitch at the Santiago Bernabeu donning the famous white shirt of Madrid and taking them to the heights that the club have accustomed themselves to.
With that in mind, here are the 10 best players to have played for the Galacticos in this millennium…
Note: The basis of the following choices are the impact of the players and the success it resulted in…
#10 Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane holds a distinction that no-one else does. Not only is he one of the best Madrid players of all time, but he will also go down as one of its greatest managers ever.
The Frenchman has won the Champions League three times as the manager of the club and can add to his tally in the future as he is the current coach of the club.
But here, we will speak of his accolades as a player. Zinedine Zidane became the most expensive signing in the history of football when the Merengues signed him in 2001.
The Frenchman was already a Ballon d’Or winner with Juventus and came into Madrid amid much fanfare. His signing kickstarted Florentino Perez’s now-infamous Zidanes y Pavones policy, where he would make a major Galactico signing every summer while also promoting a youth academy talent to the main team.
His time at Real Madrid was successful as he played 5 seasons for the club and ended up with 225 appearances to his name while also scoring 49 goals in the process.
He won the league and the Champions League once, each, and was the last Real Madrid legend to actually retire at the club.
#9 Gareth Bale
Real Madrid aficionados might not be a fan of the Welshman due to his rather nonchalant off-field nature but make no mistake here: Gareth Bale has been one of the most important players for the Merengues in this millennium.
The Welshman joined the club for a world record fee in 2013. His signing was greeted with mixed reactions since his arrival saw the departure of Mesut Ozil, who was a fan favourite at the Santiago Bernabeu.
However, in his very first season, he helped Real Madrid to the Copa del Rey by scoring a superb solo goal in the final of the tournament against Barcelona. He also scored the winning goal in the final after Sergio Ramos equalised.
Against Liverpool four years later, he scored a superb brace in the final of the Champions League to help the Galacticos win 3-1 against the Reds. In total, at the time of this writing, he has scored 104 times for the Merengues from 240 matches – which is not a bad record at all.
#8 Toni Kroos
Although he has only been at Real Madrid since 2014, Toni Kroos has been the fulcrum of the midfield for the Blancos. The German joined from Bayern Munich in a deal that cost the Merengues only €25 million.
Since then, he has been a mainstay in midfield and has helped the Blancos win a number of trophies. His presence in midfield allows the Merengues to keep control of the tempo of the game as the German is among the best passers in the world of football currently.
The former Bayern star has, at the time of writing has played 249 times for the Galacticos. In his first five full seasons at the club, he has won the Champions League thrice and also has a league win to his name.
Given that he is only 29 years of age, he can still play at the top level for at least another couple of years, which means he can still contribute so much more.
#7 Luka Modric
To think that Luka Modric was voted as the worst signing of the 2012-13 summer transfer window by Marca readers just a few months after joining Madrid makes you wonder as to how fickle people can be.
The Croat joined in the summer of 2012 from Tottenham and has been there at Real Madrid ever since. The first few months of his career with the Galacticos were nothing short of average, which is perhaps why people thought that the Merengues had wasted money with him.
However, he started getting back to his best from 2013 and now, over 6 years later, he has established himself as one of the legends of the game. The Croat became an essential figure in the club’s trophy-laden decade.
He helped the side win the Champions League four times from 2014 to 2018 and was also instrumental in their league-winning campaign in 2016-17. The former Spurs star was also the best player in his country’s run to the final of the 2018 World Cup and was awarded the Ballon d’Or for his excellence that year.
Not bad for a player who was voted as the worst signing of the summer in 2012, eh?
At any other club, Marcelo might have been in the top five of such a list but the level of quality at the Santiago Bernabeu means that he has to settle for the number six spot.
Marcelo has been the second-longest serving member of the club. The Brazilian joined the club in 2007 as a bright young prospect at left-back. He found it difficult to nail down a starting spot in his first years due to his lack of defensive discipline.
His attacking game, however, was unparalleled. As a result, he often played as a winger under Manuel Pellegrini before settling down at left-back and making the position his own.
And now, after over a decade at the club, he will not only go down as the greatest left-back to have ever played for Madrid – even surpassing the great Roberto Carlos – but also one of the best left-backs of all time.
In his time in Madrid, he has won the league and Champions League four times each and played a crucial role in every title-winning campaign for the Merengues. On top of that, his love for the crest is undeniable as he bleeds Madridismo, which is why he is an absolute fan favorite at the club.
#5 Karim Benzema
A player that has been underrated for so long that he is only starting to get the recognition he deserves right now at the age of 32. Karim Benzema was signed in 2009 alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Xabi Alonso.
After a year at the club, many thought that he would be the first of the famous second-edition of the Galacticos to leave the club. However, after almost a decade later, Benzema is the only who remains and is now the third captain of the Merengues.
He spent his entire career at the Bernabeu serving Ronaldo and helping him become the best goalscoring version of himself. His entire move-set consisted of withdrawing himself to create spaces for the Portuguese to attack.
After the departure of the former Manchester United star, however, Benzema is now the focal point of the team and the best version of the Frenchman is now finally up for all of us to see.
He is, at the time of writing, the leading scorer in La Liga with 10 goals from 12 matches. In the Champions League, he has four goals to his name from 5 appearances this season and is the fourth-highest goal-scorer in the competition’s history, only behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raul.
With Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure, Karim Benzema has been unlocked as the Frenchman is now leading the Galacticos’ attack and is certain to add more games and goals to his current tally of 482 and 236, respectively.
#4 Sergio Ramos
If Sergio Ramos was slightly less error-prone, he might have been in the top three of this list. Nevertheless, the Spain captain is an icon at the Santiago Bernabeu as he is not only the best defender in the world on his day but is also a potent goal-scoring threat.
The Spaniard joined the Blancos in 2005 and has been at the club ever since, becoming its longest-serving member and captain after the departure of Iker Casillas.
He has played 623 times for the Merengues and has 88 goals to his name – but none more important than his last-minute headed equaliser against Atletico Madrid in the final of the Champions League 2014 that helped Real Madrid win the title for the first time in 12 years.
He has won the Champions League and the league four times, each, and has also won the Euro with Spain twice and the World Cup once, establishing himself as one of the most decorated players of all time.
#3 Iker Casillas
The legendary Iker Casillas is up next. The Spanish goalkeeper is a legend of not only Real Madrid but of football in general. While his departure from the club may not have been as graceful as he would have hoped, he spent some wonderful times at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Playing 725 times for the club from 1999 to 2015, Iker Casillas established himself as arguably the best goalkeeper in the world with the Galacticos. He won the league five times with the Blancos and was a part of the team that won the Champions League three times.
He was also the captain of the Spain side that won the World Cup and the Euro twice – becoming one of the most decorated players in the history of the game.
For Madrid, he was just more than a player – he was a symbol of excellence and a leader of men.
Speaking of the symbol of excellence, if this list was about the players that oozed Madridismo, Raul would have been on top of it. The former Spain and Real Madrid captain was one of the greatest strikers of his era and is still fondly remembered as the eternal captain of the club.
He finished with 741 matches to his name – a record number of appearance for the club – and scored 323 times in a White shirt, a number only bettered by the next person on this list. He also won the Champions League two times in this decade and the league four times in the same time frame (three and six times in total in his career).
Raul represents what Real Madrid is all about: strength, courage, diligence, integrity and elegance. He was a player who was admired and loved even by rival fans, which goes on to show the class that he possessed both as a player and as a person.
#1 Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo. The phenomenon. The greatest European of all time. The player who went on to become the greatest ever Real Madrid player during his time at the club.
If you look at the summary of all the knockout matches that Real Madrid played in their Champions League-winning campaigns, you will notice that most of the goals scored in those crucial matches were from the boots of Cristiano Ronaldo.
And that is obvious, given that he is the all-time top-scorer of the club. He played 438 times for the Merengues and scored 450 goals for the club – breaking almost every scoring record there was to break.
In the end, he left the club with four Champions League and two La Liga titles while also raking in £100 million in transfer fees when he was sold to Juventus – which is £20 million more than what Madrid bought him for in 2009.