Michel Platini described Real Madrid CF legend Alfredo Di Stéfano as a "great among greats" in bestowing upon him his first UEFA President's Award on Sunday.
At a special ceremony in Madrid, Mr Platini presented Di Stéfano with the award for a lifetime serving football with brilliance and dedication as a player with the all-conquering Madrid team which won five European Champion Clubs' Cups in succession, and then as a coach. "You have been a great among greats," Mr Platini told the 81-year-old Argentina-born striker, a scorer for Madrid in all five finals between 1956 and 1960 and now Real Madrid's honorary president. "It is impossible to imagine football's history without having a thought for you. The Real Madrid team during your time as a player marked history for always, and there is no doubt that you have left an imprint which can never be erased."
Mr Platini added: "You brought the rhythm of the Argentine tango to European football, allied to a perfect individual technique and irresistible bursts of speed, the trademark of the great [CA] River Plate side of the 1940s and 1950s – Argentine football which distinguished itself through its genius, and which continued to progress during the dark years of the Second World War while football was in abeyance on our continent. To our great pleasure, you demonstrated this evolution in all of Europe's stadiums."
Mr Platini recalled that Di Stéfano was the first foreign coach who wanted the UEFA president to play for his team – Valencia CF, who he guided to the Spanish title in 1971 and the UEFA European Cup Winners' Cup in 1980. "You have been a model who has contributed to the success of European football over the following decades," Mr Platini told him.
The UEFA president spoke of his fond memories of seeing the 'Blond Arrow' and his team-mates in black-and-white images on television. "Alfredo Di Stéfano, you personified the best of world football over two decades – a god of the stadium, a magician of the ball, a perfect football master. You invented modern football on our TV screens. This is the first UEFA President's award that I am giving as UEFA president ... our greatest thanks are due to you for all that have done for this marvellous sport."
A statue of Di Stéfano was unveiled at the stadium which bears his name at Valdebebas, on a day when football's dignitaries came to pay tribute to his services to the game. "This UEFA award is very special for me because I've received it from Michel Platini, who has been able to be equally successful behind a desk as he was on the pitch," Di Stéfano said. "I am deeply moved, and I laugh to avoid crying with joy.
"I am grateful to the presidents of UEFA and FIFA for honouring me with their presence here today," he added. "Football has been my entire life and it has given me some very good moments, although some were also bad. I've built my life around football, and my friends and family have shared it with me. I am grateful to them for all the sacrifices and obligations my life imposed on them."
FIFA president Joseph S Blatter told Di Stéfano that he was "a living legend, more than just a memory, and your name is written in gold in the annals of football history." An exhibition is being opened to portray Di Stéfano's great career through 162 photographs, 45 historical objects (shirts, Ballons d'Or, posters, personal belongings, etc), and three videos. The exhibition will be officially inaugurated on Thursday 21 February as part of the Santiago Bernabéu Tour.
Click here for a look back at Alfredo Di Stefano's five European Champion Clubs' Cup finals with Real Madrid CF.
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