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Alfredo Di Stefano

Footballer

Footballer

Born: May 26, 1926; Died: July 7, 2014, aged 88

ALFREDO Di Stefano, who has died of a heart attack aged 88, was the mainspring and inspiration of the legendary Real Madrid team which won the first five successive European Cup competitions in the 1950s.

Di Stefano is widely considered to be one of the greatest players ever. In his native Argentine he is one of the "Holy Trinity" of native football superstars, alongside Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.

His grandfather Michele was Italian; his father, also Alfredo, first-­generation Argentinian while his mother Eulalia was of French and Irish descent. He signed professional forms for the famous River Plate club in 1943, aged 17.

In 1949 the Argentinian players went on strike, so Di Stefano took himself off to Columbia, where clubs such as Millionaros, which he joined, were outwith FIFA's jurisdiction and able to pay unheard of wages, in the process drawing players from all over the world, including Scottish internationalist Bobby Flavell, who said he had never seen skills such as that displayed by Di Stefano.

He scored 90 goals in 100 games in Bogota, before the Columbian FA rejoined FIFA and he returned to River Plate. However, the top European clubs had noticed his formidable goal scoring and the fact these goals had helped his teams win six league championships in Argentine and Columbia.

In 1953, Real Madrid president Santiago Bernabeau d'Yeste had been impressed by Di Stefano's performance in a friendly between his club and Millionaros, and wanted to sign him. However, Barcelona were also keen on the player. A further complication was the player had returned to River Plate, but still owed Millionaros money.

The Spanish FA were instructed by FIFA to sort out a dispute involving four different clubs, in three countries. A deal was cobbled together which would have entailed Di Stefano playing alternate seasons for Real and Barcelona, but, with the Barcelona directors split, Bernabeau signed him for Real and that was where he stayed.

The player, nicknamed The Blond Arrow, was an immediate success for the Madrid club, his goals helping them to the Spanish title in 1954-55 and into the new European Cup the following season. Real beat French side Rheims, who had themselves beaten Hibernian in the semi-final to become the inaugural winners, with Di Stefano scoring in the final. He would go on to score in each of the first five finals, all won by Real, who became the dominant giants of European football.

He had won six international caps for his native country, helping them to Copa America victory in his debut season in 1947. He then added a further four Columbian caps during his spell in Bogota. Shortly after his arrival in Spain, he was granted Spanish citizenship, making the first of an eventual 31 appearances for Spain in 1957.

Despite appearing for three separate countries, Di Stefano remains, with such as Jim Baxter of Scotland, Northern Ireland's George Best and Wales's Ryan Giggs, one of the greatest players never to appear in the World Cup finals. Argentine did not enter the competition in 1950 or 1954, in 1958 Spain failed to qualify - being beaten by Scotland, and, although he was in the Spanish squad for the 1962 finals in Chile, injury prevented him from playing.

In that 1958 campaign, he made his first appearance in Scotland, who beat Spain 4-2 at Hampden, in George Young's final home international. Di Stefano had been, with Hungary's Nandor Hideghuti, one of the first centre forwards to drop back from a spearhead role, to play "in the hole", creating chances for others as well as scoring when opportunities presented themselves.

This new tactic had perplexed many teams. At Hampden, Young dropped back to a sweeping role, leaving Tommy Docherty to give one of his best performances in a Scottish jersey, to man-mark Di Stefano. The Doc did this so well, Di Stefano barely got a touch of the ball.

His second appearance at Hampden was a different story, as he and Ferenc Puskas scored all seven goals as Real beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in what is still considered one of the greatest games in the history of football.

The mainly Scottish crowd of 128,000 gave Real a standing ovation as they won their fifth straight European Cup Final.

Di Stefano retired from international football in 1962, but continued to play for Real until 1964. When he left the club he had scored a record 307 goals in 396 matches, including 49 goals in 58 European matches. He then moved on to Espanyol, for two seasons, before retiring aged 40, having played a total of 664 club games and scored 485 goals. He scored six goals in his six internationals for Argentina and 23 goals in his 31 appearances for Spain.

He then, in 1967, after a farewell match in the Bernabeau, in which Jimmy Johnstone, playing for newly-crowned European Champions Celtic, stole the show with an outstanding display, moved into coaching, winning Argentine league titles with both old club River Plate and their fierce rivals Boca Juniors. Back in Spain he guided Valencia to victory in the Spanish Cup, and the European Cup-Winners' Cup the following season.

He then returned to Real Madrid and in 1983 he guided his old club to second place in the Spanish League and to runners-up spot in four cup competitions - the European Cup-Winners' Cup, where they lost in extra time to Aberdeen in Gothenburg, the Spanish Cup, the Spanish League Cup and the Spanish Super Cup.

As a player he won 13 domestic league titles, eight domestic cups, five European Cups and one Inter-­continental Cup. As a manager, he led his 12 clubs in Spain, Argentina and Portugal to five league titles, five domestic cups and one European Cup-Winners' Cup.

He won many individual honours. He was named as Spain's Golden Player when, to celebrate their 50th anniversary, UEFA invited each member FA to name their top player in that period. He twice, in 1957 and 1959 won UEFA's Ballon d'Or as Player of the Year, then won a Super Ballon d'Or in 1989. He was four times voted Spain's Player of the Year.

He was placed fourth, behind Pele, Maradona and Johan Cruyff in FIFA's poll of the 100 greatest footballers ever, while, when FIFA selected a Rest of the World team, which included Scotland's Denis Law and Baxter, to face England in the FA's Centenary game at Wembley in 1963, Di Stefano was named as captain.

In 2000, he became honorary President of Real Madrid, a position he held until his death, while the Madridistas also renamed their training stadium in his honour.

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