Obituary: Alfredo Di Stefano / Legendary soccer star in ’50s, ’60s

July 4, 1926 - July 7, 2014

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Al­fredo Di Ste­fano, an Ar­gen­tine soc­cer star who built a leg­end­ary ca­reer when he moved to Europe in the 1950s and led Real Ma­drid to five straight Con­ti­nen­tal club cham­pi­on­ships, died July 7 in Ma­drid. He was 88.

Real Ma­drid con­firmed his death. He was widely re­ported to have had a heart at­tack on Fri­day, his birth­day.

Mr. Di Ste­fano, an agile, tire­less and ver­sa­tile player nick­named the Blond Ar­row, per­son­i­fied to­tal soc­cer — a style of play that en­cour­ages play­ers with as­signed po­si­tions to re­de­fine them as the game de­mands — hav­ing em­braced it years be­fore the great Dutch teams of the early 1970s made it pop­u­lar.

Play­ing with Paco Gento, and later with the Hun­gar­ian star Fer­enc Pus­kas, Mr. Di Ste­fano and Real Ma­drid won the Euro­pean Cup the first five years of the com­pe­ti­tion’s ex­is­tence, from 1956 to 1960. (It is now called the Euro­pean Cham­pi­ons League.) He was voted Euro­pean foot­baller of the year in 1957 and 1959.

In 1960, Mr. Di Ste­fano scored three goals in a 7-3 vic­tory over Ein­tracht Frank­furt of Ger­many in the Euro­pean Cup fi­nal at Hamp­den Park in Glas­gow, a game still con­sid­ered to be among the great­est in soc­cer his­tory. Mr. Di Ste­fano scored a record 49 goals in 59 Euro­pean Cup games.

He fin­ished his ca­reer at Real Ma­drid with 216 goals in 282 league games from 1953 to 1964 and re­mains one of Real’s lead­ing ca­reer scor­ers. He helped the club to eight league ti­tles.

Mr. Di Ste­fano won the scor­ing ti­tle five times and is the No. 5 ca­reer goal scorer in the his­tory of the Spa­nish league. He re­tired at 40 in 1966, af­ter a 22-year ca­reer in South Amer­ica and Europe.

Speak­ing to the BBC, the English star Bobby Charl­ton, who played against Mr. Di Ste­fano with Manchester United, called him “one of the best play­ers I ever came across.”

Mr. Charl­ton once wrote about the first time he saw Mr. Di Ste­fano play, in 1957.

“Who is this man?” Mr. Charl­ton wrote, as quoted by The Guard­ian in its obit­u­ary on Mon­day. “He takes the ball from the goal­keeper, he tells the full backs what to do; wher­ever he is on the field he is in po­si­tion to take the ball, you can see his in­flu­ence on ev­ery­thing that is hap­pen­ing.”

“I had never seen such a com­plete foot­baller,” he said, add­ing: “It was as though he had set up his own com­mand cen­ter at the heart of the game. He was as strong as he was sub­tle. You just could not keep your eyes off him.”

Mr. Di Ste­fano was born on July 4, 1926, in Bar­ra­cas, a poor neigh­bor­hood of Bue­nos Aires, and learned to play soc­cer on its streets. A grand­father had em­i­grated to Ar­gen­tina from Ca­pri, off the coast of Italy. His father played for a time for Bar­ra­cas’ lead­ing soc­cer club, River Plate.

He be­gan his own ca­reer with River Plate in Au­gust 1944 and made his in­ter­na­tional de­but for Ar­gen­tina in 1947 at the South Amer­i­can cham­pi­on­ship.

After Ar­gen­tina’s pro­fes­sional play­ers went on strike and were locked out by the clubs’ own­ers in 1949, Mr. Di Ste­fano joined a group of top play­ers in leav­ing the coun­try to play in an un­sanc­tioned league in Col­om­bia. There he scored 267 goals in 292 games while lead­ing Mil­lo­nar­ios of Bogotá to four league ti­tles.

He was play­ing for Mil­lo­nar­ios at a tour­na­ment in Spain cel­e­brat­ing Real Ma­drid’s 50th an­ni­ver­sary in 1953 when he caught the at­ten­tion of Real of­fi­cials.

The team agreed to pay a trans­fer fee to Mil­lo­nar­ios to ac­quire Mr. Di Ste­fano, but be­cause the Col­om­bian league was not rec­og­nized by FIFA, Bar­ce­lona, Real’s bit­ter ri­val, was able to make a deal with River Plate, which tech­ni­cally owned the rights to him.

FIFA ap­proved Mr. Di Ste­fano’s trans­fer to Bar­ce­lona, but the Spa­nish soc­cer au­thor­i­ties re­jected the deal.

A Spa­nish court ruled that Mr. Di Ste­fano would have to stay in Spain for four years, play­ing two years for Real and two for Bar­ce­lona. Per­haps re­al­iz­ing the folly of the sit­u­a­tion, Bar­ce­lona re­nounced its claim.

Latin America and Caribbean - Europe - Western Europe - South America - Argentina - Spain National Soccer Team - Spain - Colombia - Barcelona - Manchester United FC - Francisco Gento - Real Madrid - Eintracht Frankfurt


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