Fernando Hierro: The Defender With an Outrageous Scoring Record

Ali Rampling

As defenders go, they rarely come as complete as Fernando Hierro.

The Spanish international was a rock in the heart of the Real Madrid side that enjoyed such extraordinary success in the 90s and 00s - and for a time was even the national team's top goal scorer.

Hierro was a unique centre back
Hierro was a unique centre back / Clive Mason/Getty Images

Hierro was a composed, ball playing centre half before it was cool. A tall, imposing figure, he had the appearance of a robust, no nonsense defender, but played with all the poise, composure and intelligence of a Bobby Moore.

And absolutely lived for a thumping sliding tackle.

He became the OG 'Galáctico' when he moved from Real Valladolid to Real Madrid for €1m in 1989. He was originally brought in as a midfielder, and advanced further forward during his third season at the Bernabeu.

Hierro was Real's top scorer during the 1991/92 season, hitting 21 goals.

Hierro was a regular on free kick duty
Hierro was a regular on free kick duty / Clive Mason/Getty Images

But despite his early goal scoring feats, Real were always at their best when Hierro was at the heart of their defence. Four of the five La Liga titles and all three of the Champions League crowns the Spaniard won in the Spanish capital came while he was playing at centre half.

Hierro was a reluctant centre half, a defender with a forward's brain.

"I watch the game unfolding up front from my position in defence," he said in a 2002 interview [via the Guardian]. "And many times I say to myself: 'What a shame I can't go up there and have a shot.' I know I wasn't born to be a defender."

But the natural ball playing ability that came from starting out as a midfielder became his greatest weapon as a central defender. The manner in which he could elegantly maraud forward from the back with the ball at his feet, his terrific first touch and his ice cool composure were vital to Real.

Hierro carried the ball with such purpose
Hierro carried the ball with such purpose / Clive Mason/Getty Images

His vision, anticipation and ability to pick a pass were sublime, enabling him to find the Real forward line time after time with a searching long ball.

Even after being moved back to centre half, the goal scoring continued. Hierro was the designated penalty taker for club and country for a decade, and was always trusted with free kick responsibilities.

The centre back concluded his international career in 2002 with 29 goals in 89 appearances - a figure that is only bettered by Raul, David Silva, Fernando Torres and David Villa.

His Real scoring record is similarly outrageous; 102 goals in 439 appearances - near enough a goal every four games.

Hierro enjoyed a hugely decorated career
Hierro enjoyed a hugely decorated career / Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Real Madrid have long been a hectic club, no more so as the Galáctico era began to take shape in the late 90s and early 00s. But the ever dependable Hierro was constantly the calm amongst the chaos.

He departed Real in 2003 having won eight major trophies in 14 seasons, leaving for the luxury of Qatari side Al-Rayyan.

But the Qatari lifestyle was not quite lucrative enough for Hierro, who opted to finish his career in style: at Bolton Wanderers.