Di Stefano 'a true great' of Madrid

Di Stefano 'a true great' of Madrid

As far as Real Madrid are concerned, there is no debate to be had – Alfredo Di Stefano was, quite simply, “the best footballer of all time”.

So reads the headline the club put atop their profile of him on their official website, and it is easy to see why.

Di Stefano, who has died at the age of 88, could hardly have had a more successful time than he did during his 11-season stint as a player with the Spanish giants, which came to an end in 1964.

With the forward as their inspiration, Real won the Primera Division eight times over the period.

More famously, they claimed five successive European Cups from 1955/56 to 1959/60, Di Stefano scoring in each final and notching a hat-trick in the last one.

In total he netted over 300 times for Los Blancos – although, in the words of the club, the 1957 and 1959 Ballon d’Or winner was not just a goalscorer but a player who could “attack, defend and play well everywhere”, as well as “a leader on and off the pitch”.

Even before he joined Real – victors of a hard-fought battle with Spanish rivals Barcelona for his signature – in 1953, Di Stefano had a considerable list of honours to his name.

Born in Argentina in 1926, he went on to made his breakthrough at River Plate and was soon winning the league with them.

Further titles followed after he departed his native country due to a football strike there to play in Colombia with Millonarios.

The move to Spain then came about and he was integral as Real established themselves as a fearsome force at home and abroad, before he concluded his playing days at Espanyol.

Curiously, although Di Stefano was capped by the national teams of all three countries he played club football in, for various reasons he never managed to feature at a World Cup finals.

The most caps he won were for Spain, with him turning out 31 times for them.

Di Stefano also enjoyed success as a coach, guiding both Boca Juniors and River Plate to silverware in Argentina and then, having returned to Spain, taking Valencia to the 1970/71 Primera Division title.

After coaching spells at Sporting Lisbon, Rayo Vallecano and Castellon, he went back to Valencia and led them to victory in the 1979/80 European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Then came a return to Real in 1982 for a tenure that proved a series of near-misses over two seasons, with the club finishing as runners-up in five competitions.

But a further brief period with him in charge at the Bernabeu from November 1990 saw him oversee Real’s Spanish Super Cup victory against Barcelona.

It seemed only right that there was a trophy of some description included within this, his final stint on the front line for Los Merengues.

It was not the end for his association with Real, though.

Indeed, he was very much a part of the club come his dying day, having been their honorary president since being bestowed with the title in 2000 – a formal recognition of his status, already long secured, as a true great.

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