The greatest teams of all time: Real Madrid 1956-60
Monday, June 1, 2015
The Greatest: "We had so many great players in that team it's not surprising we won so many European Cups," recalled Francisco Gento of Real Madrid CF's five-in-a-row titans.
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With ten European Champion Clubs' Cup successes, Real Madrid CF are the continent's most garlanded side, but they received a five-title head start from the world's finest team from 1956-60.
The golden age
"We just had the misfortune to be around at the same time as that incredible Real Madrid team," reflected Stade de Reims goalkeeper Dominique Colonna in 1959 after his side's second European Cup final defeat to Madrid. "If it wasn't for them, Reims might have dominated Europe for years."
José Villalonga's Madrid came from behind twice to beat Reims 4-3 in the first final, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Marquitos and Héctor Rial (twice) their scorers, and having acquired Reims' star man Raymond Kopa that summer, they beat ACF Fiorentina 2-0 in the 1957 final at their own Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. Victories kept coming: 3-2 against AC Milan in the 1958 final in Brussels; 2-0 against Reims in the 1959 decider in Stuttgart; 7-3 against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Glasgow final of 1960.
The Merengues notably won all 17 of their European home games in this period. "We had the greats: Di Stéfano, Puskás, Gento etc," recalled Kopa. "Our defence excellent with Marquitos, Santamaría, Santisteban. The atmosphere at games was fantastic – 125,000 spectators waving white handkerchiefs. We had no sponsors, no television coverage, we had to play friendlies all over the world in order to make money for the club. They were definitely different times."
- Hungary 1950-56: the Magical Magyars
- Benfica 1960-62: Eusébio's Lisbon marvels
- Inter Milan 1962-67: the 'Grande Inter'
- Ajax 1971-73: the kings of 'total football'
- Bayern 1973-76: Germany's first world-beaters
- AC Milan 1988-90: Sacchi's game-changers
- Real Madrid 1998-2002: the Galácticos
- Barcelona 2008-12: Guardiola's greatest
The baton handover
The absolute high-water mark may have been that 7-3 win against Eintracht on 18 May 1960, which featured four goals from Ferenc Puskás and a Di Stéfano hat trick came in front of 127,621 fans in Scotland. Rogelio Domínguez; Marquitos, José Santamaría, Pachín; Vidal, Zárraga; Canário, Luis del Sol, Di Stéfano, Puskás, Francisco Gento, was the starting XI put out by liza Miguel Muñoz, who became the first person to win the European Cup as both a player and manager.
"No side could have lived with Real Madrid today," wrote French reporter Jean Eskenazi. "Their play was like the most fantastic fireworks display you have seen for a long time." However, Madrid were eliminated in the first round by FC Barcelona the following season, and found that clubs from all over Europe had picked up the gauntlet they laid down in the years to come.
The game-changing philosophy
Arguably, big signings were as significant as tactics in a time when footballing science was still in its infancy, but what was certain was that Madrid's attack overwhelmed all-comers. In their five consecutive European Cup-winning campaigns, Madrid managed 20, 20, 25, 16 and 31 goals – 112 in total.
"When you have talent like Raymond Kopa, Ferenc Puskás and Alfredo di Stéfano, you have to put them all in the team and as a result we were very attack-minded," recalled Francisco Gento of his side's ultra-aggressive 3-2-5 lineup. "We had so many great players in that team it's not surprising we won so many European Cups."
The tactical genius
Continuity on the pitch was crucial to the golden era – Di Stéfano notably scored in all five of their final wins – but three different coaches oversaw that period. Villalonga was in charge for the first two successes, before Argentinian Luis Antonio Carniglia masterminded the 1958 and 1959 efforts. A midfielder who played in Madrid's first three European Cup successes, Miguel Muñoz was on the bench for the 1960 success, and indeed for the 1966 success, but while his side were utterly dominant in Spain in the 1960s, philosophical changes elsewhere meant no one monopolised European success again in quite the same way.
The star players
Alfredo Di Stéfano: Signed at the age of 27 in 1953, 'The Blonde Arrow' was a master predator, and found the net 216 times in 284 La Liga games. However, Sir Bobby Charlton recalled him being the heart of the team too. "It was as though he had set up his own command centre at the heart of the game," he recalled. "He was as strong as he was subtle. You just could not keep your eyes off him."
Francisco Gento: The only player to have won six European Cups, 'The Gale of the Cantabrian Sea' is also – alongside Paolo Maldini – the only player to have appeared in eight finals. Signed from Real Racing Club Santander aged 18, Gento left Madrid at 37, and is the only player to have won 12 Spanish titles – all with Madrid. His runs down the left delivered goals for Di Stéfano, Puskás, Kopa and Rial.
Ferenc Puskás: Already 31 – and a little portly – when he joined Madrid in 1958, Puskás's hammer left foot added a new dimension to Madrid's game. He famously scored 84 goals in 85 Hungary games, and while he missed the 1959 final, Puskás made up for it with four against Eintracht in the 1960 decider. "Puskás controlled the ball with his left foot better than I could with my hands," noted Di Stéfano.
What they said
Ferenc Puskás on why he scored so many: "I think I was just always close to the goal!"
Francisco Gento: "I played in eight finals in total and I won six. We were the strongest team in the world and it was a huge pleasure to play with so many magical players."
Sir Alex Ferguson: "In the  semi-final, Eintracht Frankfurt beat Rangers and we looked upon Eintracht as almost certain to win the cup - but Real Madrid were a special team. I had the pleasure as a young man of being influenced by the great Real Madrid and Di Stéfano. His head was up all the time. He was such a fantastic footballer."
Michel Platini: "Di Stéfano was superb technically, possessed outstanding speed, and was a splendid goalscorer. Together with his gifted team-mates, he helped invent modern football. He embodied all that is magical about football."