“Di Stéfano was a great player and saw things others didn’t see. He knew the game back to front and was always physically and mentally well-prepared. Di Stéfano ranks among the greatest players for me.” Ferenc Puskas
“Ronaldo is playing extremely well at the moment, but it will be years before he reaches the level of Pelé or Di Stéfano.” Johan Cruyff
“There is a phalanx of great ones – Cruyff, Maradona, Pele, Puskas and Di Stefano. Di Stefano was one of the greatest in my mind.” Sir Alex Ferguson
There is a pantheon of footballing greats. A vast temple where the likes of Messi and CR7 clamber to be let in to once the time comes for them to call it a day. Names like Pele, Maradona, Cruyff and Best find homes there, as does the man responsible for catapulting world football’s biggest club into the stratosphere. Alfredo Di Stefano.
In all honesty, he may not be mentioned as often as he should be by fans of the game, but the fact remains that he was integral to a Real Madrid side that dominated the earliest era of European footballing competition, and in a lot of ways laid the foundation for the way we think about the European cup, and the modern game today. But before we get into the man and his European Cup heroics, let’s talk about how he fell into the lap of Real Madrid.
In an odd twist of fate Alfredo may not have arrived at Madrid at all. He was involved in a tense political tug of war between Madrid and Barcelona that also involved his then club, Millonarios of Columbia, and former team River Plate as well as several lawyers, club officials and FIFA themselves. It was a tussle to rival even the most complex of transfer dealing from today’s game and ultimately changed the face of Spanish football forever. He initially signed for Barcelona after months of back and forth, however due to so many third party ownerships and clauses the transfer was not recognised by the Spanish federation. When Di Stefano arrived in the country to complete his move to the Catalan big boys a Real official swept in and negotiated a new deal with him for Madrid. Then followed more controversy and the resignation of a Barcelona club president (he made the absurd suggestion that they allow Real to have him for two seasons, then for Barcelona to have him for two seasons) for reasons still disputed to this day Barcelona gave up on Di Stefano and the Madrid president won his man, and what a mistake that proved to be. By the way, in case you wondered the name of that Real Madrid president, he was one Santiago Bernabeu Yeste.
Now you begin to see just how important this Era in Real’s history was. All the great names you would associate with the club in the modern day were in play around that time. And once the transfer of Di Stefano was signed and sealed it all began to come together. He helped Madrid win only their third league title in his first season, after seeing Spanish football being dominated by Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao in the years previously. Since then Real are the all time record winner of La Liga with 32 triumphs (8 of which came during Di Stefano’s time in the team) and 10 more than fierce rivals Barcelona.
The thing Di Stefano will most be remembered for though is the key role he played in making the newly formed European cup Madrid’s trophy. They won it for a remarkable five consecutive years, from its inception in the 1955-1956 season till 1959-1960. Perhaps even more impressive is that Di Stefano scored in every final. Two records that still stand to this day, and will likely never be broken. His overall European cup goal record stood at a mesmerising 49 goals in 58 matches. Real Madrid’s new generation of stars may have just delivered Le Decima, but it was a Di Stefano inspired Real that won the first ever European cup and cemented Real’s legacy.
Di Stefano was a breath-taking player. Described by many as a complete forward and the most complete footballer ever. He was a tremendous goalscorer., finishing with career figures of 485 goals in 664 appearances. He was technically outstanding, had amazing vision and a real footballing brain, coupled with devastating speed and balance.
The very best in football have praised him and put him on the highest of pedestals, and rightfully so. The reason he will remain so important to me however is that he took a team dragging their heels, waiting to be made great and made them worthy of carrying the Royal name. He Rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest names in the clubs history. Men who have stadiums and statues named after them, men (who, like himself) are multiple Ballon Dor winners and icons of the game. He helped forge an empire, that we reap the benefits of to this very day. Big names and Galatico’s have come and gone, yet none of them can come close to having the cataclysmic effect he did on the club. I would say simply he was the biggest player for the world’s biggest club, but without Di Stefano they wouldn’t be the world’s biggest. How different it may have been if he had chosen Barcelona…
“Scoring goals is like making love: everyone can do it, but nobody does it like me.”