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Anybody regularly watching La Liga since Sky popularised it in recent years would be led to believe that the Spanish game is based purely on fancy media-puntos, jet-heeled wingers and silky-skilled strikers. And they'd be about right. But back in the 70's and 80's the same skill and flair was on show but was counterbalanced with a number of brutal defenders, the likes of whom would make modern day so-called football hard-men run off crying to their Mummies...

Rank Player Name Details
1 Andoni Goikoetxea

Goikoetxea
Goikoetxea personified Javier Clemente's hard-as-nails Athletic Bilbao side of the early 1980's, with the centre-half becoming infamous across the world after a couple of his ruthless 'tackles' severely injured two giants of the world game - Barcelona's Diego Maradona and Bernd Schuster. It led to him being nicknamed 'the Butcher of Bilbao' by the media, although he was affectionately known as El Gigante de Alonsotegui (Alonsotegui's Giant) by Athletic's passionate supporters. He was given a 16 match ban by the Spanish FA for the challenge on Maradona and celebrated the news like any true nutter would - by framing the boot that committed that horrendous foul in a glass case and hanging it on his living room wall ! Despite his troubles he still managed to attain 39 caps for the national team.
2 Migueli

Migueli
Hailing from Ceuta, the autonomous Spanish city on the African side of the Strait of Gibraltar, this hulking central defender looked like he'd just escaped from the set of a spaghetti western, where he would probably have spent most of the film saying "Hey, Gringo..." in a gravelly voice. Migueli became a legendary figure with Barcelona, and is still regarded by the fans as the most committed player ever to pull on the Blaugrana shirt. Never one to shirk a tackle, he played in the 1979 European Cup Winners Cup final against Fortuna Dusseldorf with a broken collar bone, probably just for a laugh. Nicknamed Tarzan, presumably because he could probably wrestle a lion to death, when he retired from Barca in 1989 he'd amassed 667 appearances, a club record. It would have been even more, but he missed the entire first season as he'd left Spain's military service without permission and Barca feared he would be punished if he appeared for the club.
3 Juan Carlos Arteche

Arteche
Another moustachioed man mountain from the 80's. And whilst he didn't collect a bag full of trophies like Barca's Migueli he was just as popular amongst Atletico's fervent support. A central defender who appeared to have a fierce scowl permanently welded to his face, Arteche loved a physical game, so it was a surprise that one of his worst games came for Spain against one of the games more traditionally physical teams - England. Having formed a decent understanding with the likes of Chendo and Jose Camacho in some of his previous games, they had a night to forget in the Bernabeu in February 1987 as the impish Peter Beardsley ran them ragged and Gary Lineker went goal crazy, scoring all 4 as England won 4:2.
4 Pablo Alfaro

Alfaro
Partner in crime to Javi Navarro, Alfaro is probably the cleverest football hard-man in football history, Yes, whilst self-confessed 'hardest man in Britain' Robbie Savage was concentrating on how he could make himself look any more ridiculous by getting that Armani tattoo, Alfaro has busy getting qualified as a doctor. So what's a pleasant, intelligent doctor doing in this list ? Well, whilst he may be a friendly bloke off the pitch, like many other rational men before him, just put a football jersey on him and send him out to defend and he becomes a different beast. And the tag he's earned from media and fans alike may give you a clue as to his style of play... "Doctor Death". Alfaro was best known for his 5 years at Sevilla from 2001 to 2006, where he forged a fearsome partnership with Javi Navarro. His fierce aerial challenges, with flailing elbows everywhere, were his speciality, and by the time he left Sevilla for Racing Santander he'd amassed more red cards than other La Liga player. Such a reputation led to him becoming public enemy number one with opposing fans, with the Spanish media always keen to dig up an old Alfaro story before his matches against the top clubs. And the best of these stories will always be from 2004 and a Copa del Rey tie between Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, where Spanish daily sports paper Marca famously showed a photo of Alfaro with his hands shoved up an Atletico forward's bottom. Now that's what you call tight man-to-man marking.
5 Jose Santamaria A star of the great Real Madrid team of the late 50's, Santamaria is widely regarded as one of the toughest centre-backs the game has produced. Whilst the likes of Puskas, Di Stefano, Gento and Kopa were making a mockery of the opposition defence, the uncompromising Santamaria was doing his best impression of a brick wall about 50 yards behind them. He learnt his trade in that spiritual home of football hard men - Uruguay. Born and raised there, by the time he'd broken into the Nacional first team as a teenager he was already a master in the arts of blocking, sneaky fouls, and booting forwards up the backside. He transferred to Real Madrid in 1957, whereby he followed Di Stefano's example and starting representing Spain instead.
6 Miguel Angel Nadal

Nadal
A few years after 'the Butcher of Bilbao' came 'the Beast of Barcelona', also known as Miguel Angel Nadal. And whilst his nephew Rafael pranced around the tennis court as a nipper in tight fitting vest tops, Uncle Miguel was busy rampaging over the country's football fields, stopping by fair means or foul any opponent who dared to try and pass him. The difference between Nadal and many other hard-nosed defenders is that he could play a bit as well - he may have been as tough as an under-cooked chorizo, but his fine distribution meant he was also deployed as a libero and even as a midfielder. 'The Beast' was a great leader too, captaining not only Barca but the national team as well, he also went on to claim 5 league titles during his 8 years with the Catalan giants.
7 Javi Navarro

Navarro
For a few seasons at the start of the 21st century, Navarro and the aforementioned Pablo Alfaro ruled La Liga forward lines with the sort of fear that an 1980's Javier Clemente defence would have been proud of. Both of them were fantastic in the air, but susceptible to swift moves on the deck, something they tried to counteract with ridiculously tight marking (see Pablo Alfaro's finest moment) and some rather dubious tackling. Navarro's most infamous moment was his assault, sorry tackle, on Real Mallorca's Juan Arango, that left the poor sod shaking on the pitch, requiring 40 stitches and need a four-day trip to the hospital. Nice. Navarro was incredibly given just a yellow card during the match but received a five match ban after the Spanish FA came to there senses.
8 Jose Camacho

Camacho
Probably best known in recent years as a manager - ranting frantically on the sidelines in his sweat-drenched shirts, Camacho was also an exceptional footballer in the 70's and 80's - a one-club man who had 16 great years with Real Madrid. He'd first come to prominence with some mighty displays in the 70's - famously cancelling out Johann Cruyff on a couple of occasions as he intimidated the Dutch legend out of the game, almost glueing himself onto him as he shadowed him round the pitch for 90 minutes. They say he didn't say much, but he didn't need to. Visually, Camacho looked the part - almost square in shape, a block of black hair that looked like it had been painted on, and a permanent dead-eye being handed out to everyone on the pitch, even his own team-mates. To top it off, as if to make a point of how hard he was Camacho, along with fellow team-mate Rafael Gordillo, would stroll onto the pitch with socks rolled down, advertising the fact that he had no shin-pads. Yes, Camacho laughed at shin-pads, and chortled in the face of gashed legs. Anyway, back to that sweating - blimey if he's like that as a manager, then imagine those armpits after he's grabbed you in a head-lock after an hour of running around in the searing Spanish heat.
9 Michel Salgado

Martinez
One of the youngest player in our list, and whilst the Real Madrid right back has been a massive hit at Real Madrid since joining in 1999 you cant help thinking that he'd have been more suited to the battle grounds of the 70's and early 80's, when men were men and referees were a little bit more tolerant. Steve McManaman once said Salgado was the "hardest person in the world" (that's right - not just football, but the entire world!) and was a "genuine psychopath, even in training", although that's not much of a recommendation as Macca also thought that David Ginola was "a bit of a tough cookie". Maybe Salgado honed this ferocious streak whilst staying at Margate for a month when he was a teenager, and being a massive fan of the English game it's a surprise he never made that move to the Premiership. We don't know Salgado, but we like him. He looks like the sort of bloke you could happily spend a couple of hours down the pub with, talking about Espana 82 and discussing various scenes from Alan Partridge or Father Ted.
10 Juan Manuel Martinez

Martinez
Whilst many others in our top 10 were physically intimidating, with gnarled-up faces and manic eyes, Lopez looked like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. But when that whistle went he turned into Senor Looney. A full back who made the most of his arms, elbows and studs, Martinez was one of the 'stars' of the 1996 Atletico Madrid team that did the Spanish league and cup double 'a base de patadas' (roughly translated: by kicking people). Aided and abetted by Uruguayan nutter Diego Simeone, it was a slightly unjust tag, because whilst Martinez and Simeone put the fear of God into the opposition with some of their challenges and antics, there was still plenty of creative talent in the side from the likes of Jose Luis Caminero, Milinko Pantic, Luboslav Penev and Kiko. Martinez won 11 caps for Spain and played twice at Euro 96, although this isn't too surprising as the Spanish manager at the time was none other than Javier Clemente, famed for his tough-as-old-boots teams.