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