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Di Stéfano, the man who dazzled Europe

Published: Wednesday 19 January 2011, 12.55CET
Argentinian-born attacker Alfredo Di Stéfano was the brightest star in the Real Madrid CF team that reigned supreme in the late 1950s.
by Luis Arnáiz
Di Stéfano, the man who dazzled Europe
Alfredo di Stéfano scores in the 1960 European Cup final ©Getty Images
Published: Wednesday 19 January 2011, 12.55CET

Di Stéfano, the man who dazzled Europe

Argentinian-born attacker Alfredo Di Stéfano was the brightest star in the Real Madrid CF team that reigned supreme in the late 1950s.

To help mark UEFA's Jubilee in 2004, each national association was asked to nominate its most outstanding player of the past 50 years. Spain chose Alfredo Di Stéfano as their Golden Player.

Alfredo Di Stéfano was the original 'total footballer' and the greatest player of his era, his superb skills, incredible goals and remarkable selflessness proving key factors in Real Madrid CF's golden years of the 1950s and 1960s.

The Argentinian-born Spanish international was an inspirational figure as Madrid emerged as Europe's top club and won eight league titles in Spain. Di Stéfano played and scored in the first five European Champion Clubs' Cup finals as the Merengues dominated the competition's formative years.

Di Stéfano was born on 4 July 1926 in the Barracas district of Buenos Aires. He was the oldest of three brothers from a family of farmers and, by the age of 13, had joined CA River Plate's youth team. Years later his first coach, Carlos Peucelle, recalled: "I had never seen a player with such physical strength and determination. No one improved as quickly."

Determination was a constant theme throughout Di Stéfano's life. After he was kept out of the River first team by Adolfo Pedernera, Di Stéfano's father insisted his son should be given the chance to display his talent. The result was a loan to CA Huracán, where Di Stéfano excelled in 1946.

The following season he was back at River and, following the sale of Pedernera, became part of a famous forward line alongside Juan Carlos Muñoz, José Manual Moreno, Ángel Labruna and Félix Loustau. Alternatively nicknamed 'The German' – because of his blond hair – and 'The Blond Arrow', Di Stéfano introduced the back-heel to a wide audience, and such invention prompted one of the forward's idols, the aforementioned Moreno, to tell him: "You'll be great one day, son, but don't expect it to be easy."

In Di Stéfano's last game for River Plate he scored twice against CA San Lorenzo de Almagro and departed with the fans' chants ringing in his ears. A strike among Argentinian players took him to Columbia's CD Millonarios Bogotá, where his artistic skills soon earned him a new nickname, 'The Blue Dancer'.

In 1952, he played in Real Madrid's old Chamartín Stadium in a match organised to celebrate the club's 50th anniversary and, with his talents immediately apparent, enchanted the Madrid crowd. On 26 September 1953, after a legal dispute with FC Barcelona who also claimed his services, Di Stéfano signed for Madrid, with the Catalan club rejecting a proposal that would have seen Di Stéfano spending half the season with each club.

As a result, Barça saw their long period of dominance come to an end, with Di Stéfano helping Madrid become practically unbeatable. They won the league in his first season and added seven more titles between 1955 and 1964, completing a domestic double in 1961/62. Madrid's crowning glories, however, came in continental competition as the club claimed the first five editions of the European Cup in spectacular fashion. Di Stéfano scored in all five finals, most famously a hat-trick in the 7-3 success against Eintracht Frankfurt in May 1960.

Di Stéfano was granted Spanish nationality in 1956 and played 31 times for his adopted country, scoring 23 goals. He may have been an introvert, but even alongside arguably more technically-gifted players such as Raymond Kopa and Ferenc Puskás, Di Stéfano was the star that shone brightest in Madrid's galaxy of superstars.

Di Stéfano, who later led Valencia CF to the Spanish title and UEFA Cup Winners' Cup as a coach, became Madrid's honorary president in 2000 and in 2008 received the first UEFA President's Award from Michel Platini. "A great among greats," is how Platini described Di Stéfano as he presented him with the honour and thanked him for bringing "the rhythm of the Argentine tango to European football".

Recalling watching black-and-white images of Di Stéfano's golden years, the UEFA President added: "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."

Last updated: 19 January 2011

Last updated: 22/02/11 11.16CET

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