A Tribute To...Alfredo Di Stefano

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A Tribute To...Alfredo Di Stefano

Barney Corkhill's A Tribute To... series returns! In this series I look at legends and past masters of sport.

 

Today's tribute is to the man who played for three different countries, and had a huge part in guiding Real Madrid to five successive European Cups—Alfredo Di Stefano.

Regarded by many as the greatest all-round footballer of all time, Di Stefano was a footballing phenomenon.

Although apparently a deep-lying centre forward, with an astonishing, free-scoring goal record, his balance, vision, and passing skills were those of a midfielder, and his overall contribution to the team play was unselfish and inspirational.

Born on the 4th July, 1926 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Di Stefano was born to Italian parents. Working on a farm, Di Stefano found little time to play football. However, his love for the game prevailed.

At 12-years-old, Di Stefano joined Los Cardales, a local youth team. He guided them to an Amateur Championship. It wasn't long before he was drafted into River Plate's first team, making his debut on the right-wing at just 16.

He spent three years as a bit-part player, behind the likes of Adolfo Perdernera and Labruna, two greats of Argentinian football. In 1946, at 20 years of age, Alfredo Di Stefano was loaned out to Huracan.

River Plate soon came up against Huracan and Di Stefano. The youngster showed River Plate what they were missing by scoring the opening goal, and ultimately winning goal, after just 15 seconds.

He was soon recalled from his loan and became a permanent fixture in the River Plate side. His fantastic performances ensured the youngster spearheaded the most feared attack in South America.

However, his quality drew jealousy, and from jealousy comes hate, and hate spawns violence. In a game in 1947 he scored the winning goal, before being attacked by the opposing fans, and had to be taken to hospital.

It didn't seem to get to him, though, as he was soon back scoring goals, and eventually helped River Plate to the league title, finishing top scorer in the process, in his first season back at River Plate.

Di Stefano's 27 goals in 30 matches accounted for a third of all River Plate's goals that season, and he was voted the South American Player of the Year.

1947 was a year to remember for Di Stefano on the international stage as well, as it was the year he made his first appearance for Argentina. The appearance came in the Copa America, due to an injury to another Argentinian striker.

Di Stefano made an instant impact. The man who had been taken to the Copa America as a reserve helped Argentina to a 7-0 thrashing of Bolivia. He was one of the first names on the team sheet for the rest of the tournament, scoring five more goals in his next five games.

He finished second top scorer of the Copa America that year, but only played one more match for Argentina, again scoring. He ended his Argentine international career with seven goals in seven games.

In 1949 a players strike over wages prompted many to head elsewhere to look for professional football. Di Stefano found it in Colombia, for Millionarios.

No transfer fee was paid as Colombia weren't part of FIFA, so Millionarios got one of the brightest starts in world football for free. He took Colombia by storm.

In 1949, his first season at Millionarios, he helped them to the Colombian Championship, a feat he was to manage three more times during his time there. He was by no means the only big name at Millionarios. The high wages paid lured a star-studded team to Colombia, but none of the stars shined as brightly as Di Stefano.

In 1951, Millionarios won the Colombian Championship again, and Di Stefano was the top scorer not only in the Colombian League, but the whole of South America. More of the same followed in 1952 as he repeated the feat.

Di Stefano impressed so much that the Colombian National team were considering calling him up. Being outside FIFA regulations, this was allowed, and Di Stefano eventually played four times for them. He failed to score for them, but made his presence felt.

1953 was another eventful year for Di Stefano. He helped Millionarios to another Championship, and a Colombian Cup, as well as being named South American Player of the Year and World Club Cup top scorer.

However, it was a friendly match that changed Di Stefano's life most. In a tournament celebrating Real Madrid's fiftieth year, Di Stefano's Millionarios went to Spain and won the tournament.

The Spanish had been alerted to his talent. Immediately a race went on for his signature. Real Madrid and Barcelona were the two front runners. At one point they agreed to share the player for four years, with Di Stefano playing for both clubs alternatively.

The Barcelona fans went mad at this. The manager left just days after, and the new management gave Real Madrid the chance to buy Di Stefano outright, something which Madrid did for a rather modest £70,000.

He left Millionarios having scored 267 goals in 292 games, after just four years there.

Di Stefano was already 27 when he signed for Madrid. But that didn't stop him. It took him a few games to settle in, but he announced himself on the scene against, who else, Barcelona.

They met just one day after Barcelona had handed over the permanent rights for Di Stefano. If they had just waited a day longer, perhaps the face of football would be different. Di Stefano inspired Madrid to a 5-0 win over their great rivals, scoring four goals himself.

In his first season at Madrid, he helped them to the La Liga title, and then again the very next season. In those two seasons, Di Stefano managed 52 goals in 58 games in the league.

The success in the 1954-55 season allowed Madrid to qualify for the first ever European Cup competition.

Real Madrid met Servette, Partizan Belgrade, and AC Milan on their way to final to face a Raymond Kopa inspired Stade De Reims. Despite falling behind twice, Madrid managed to win the match 4-3, and the inaugural European Cup competition.

Di Stefano, naturally, scored in the final.

In 1957, Madrid won their second consecutive European Cup, with Di Stefano again scoring in the final, and a La Liga title. On a personal level, he was awarded with the European Footballer of the Year award.

It was this year that Di Stefano first represented Spain at international level, his third international team. He went on to win 31 caps, scoring 23 goals.

1958 brought yet more success as Real Madrid won a third European Cup (yet again, Di Stefano scored in the final), and a second consecutive La Liga title. It also saw the arrival of the man who would complete perhaps the greatest attacking line of all time—Ferenc Puskas.

Real Madrid now had Alfredo Di Stefano, Raymond Kopa, Ferenc Puskas, and Francisco Gento as their fantastic front four. They seemed unstoppable. In Europe, they were.

1959 brought an unbelievable fourth European Cup in a row, and Di Stefano continued his record in scoring in every European Cup final there had ever been. Subsequently, he was named European Footballer of the Year for a second time—the first player to achieve such a feat.

In 1960, Madrid and Di Stefano won their fifth consecutive Champions League trophy. Di Stefano scored, once again, in the final. The five-in-a-row is still a record that stands today, and doesn't look likely to be beaten anytime soon. That all-conquering Madrid side will go down to many as the greatest club side ever.

Di Stefano ended his European career with 49 goals in 58 matches, a record which stood until 2005 when Raul broke it. Since then, Andriy Shevchenko and Ruud van Nistelrooy have also overtaken him, but all in a lot more games.

The 1960 European Cup final is still, to many, the greatest match of football ever played. In a 7-3 demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt, Di Stefano scored a wonderful hat-trick, and strike partner Puskas scored four.

From 1961 to 1964, Di Stefano, now an ageing superstar, helped Madrid to four consecutive La Liga titles, before leaving the club to go to Espanyol in 1964. He retired in 1966, after scoring 216 goals in 282 league matches for Real Madrid, a record which stands to this day.

Overall in his career, he is said to have scored over 800 goals, with some saying as high as 893. Despite his genius, Di Stefano never played in a World Cup, he last real chance coming in 1964, when he was cruelly robbed by injury just weeks before the tournament.

In a poll to find the footballer of the century, Di Stefano finished fourth. Maradona himself has said that Di Stefano was better than Pele.

"The Blond Arrow" will forever be in the football history books as one of the greatest players ever, and rightly so.

This has been a tribute to Alfredo Di Stefano.

 

Click here to see other tributes made by this author.

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