FIFA World Cup winner Jorge Valdano likes to say that nothing angers Alfredo Di Stéfano today more than seeing a player applaud a team-mate who has missed a crucial pass. "In my days, you would have gotten killed for such an appalling mistake," Di Stéfano pointed out.
Born in 1926 in the La Boca suburb of Buenos Aires, CA River Plate was the Argentinian's first club, but he was lured to Spain in 1953 by FC Barcelona after a couple of years playing for Bogota's CA Millonarios in Colombia as a result of a players' strike in Argentina.
It was not the player's first visit to Spain or post-war Europe. He had been one of the River Plate team that played in Turin in May 1949 in honour of the players of the great Torino Calcio side who died in the Superga air crash months earlier.
"Most of us were of Italian origins. It was just natural that we played in Turin to express our solidarity," he said. In 1952 he toured Spain with Millonarios playing in Real Madrid CF's 50th anniversary tournament and also in Seville, Valencia and Las Palmas.
After some wrangling between his various clubs - "Barcelona did not understand that they had to negotiate with River Plate rather than with Millonarios" - Di Stéfano ended up playing for Madrid. "I was technically excellent like the best Argentinians," Di Stéfano said. "But I was also fast and that made it easy for me to excel in Spanish football."
Having lived in Spain for 52 years, Di Stéfano has seen enormous changes to football. "Today football is a real industry," he said. "Then, it was another world. We used to play a huge amount of friendlies all over the world just to make some money. I used to complain that I had signed a contract to play football not to run all over the world!"
He added: "When I arrived in Barcelona, I got a car, quite a nice car, but I had to give it up when I moved to Madrid. Real Madrid players were not supposed to own cars. No ostentation was allowed. [Former Madrid president Santiago] Bernabéu was quite conservative: no cars, no moustaches, no beards and later no long hair!"
While life off the pitch could be a struggle, on it Di Stéfano transformed Madrid into winners. From 1954 to 1964, they collected five European Champion Clubs' Cups, eight league titles and the first Intercontinental Cup in 1960. Di Stéfano scored 418 goals in 518 official Madrid games, before leaving after losing 3-1 to FC Internazionale Milano in the 1964 European Cup final and returned to Barcelona to play for RCD Espanyol. After two seasons he retired aged 40.
Di Stéfano's astounding achievements as a player tend to over-shadow a distinguished 25-year coaching career, in which he again enjoyed success winning trophies in Argentina and Europe. But now, some 15 years after retiring as a coach, Di Stéfano is not enthusiastic about the experience. "You become a coach because you are too old to play or because an injury has stopped your career early," he said. "As a coach you are always guilty. If someone has to be gotten rid of, it's you. Anyone who says he likes to coach is a liar!"
This an abridged version of an article which appears in the latest issue of Champions magazine, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League. Click here to subscribe.
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