Football

Tributes pour in for Argentina legend Di Stefano

Football fraternity 
pay tribute to Real Madrid legend , who dies after heart attack

Tributes to football great Alfredo Di Stefano poured in this morning (Singapore time), following the 88-year-old's death last night.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson called the ex-Real Madrid star "one of the greatest in my mind".

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, formerly of Real, said Di Stefano is the "best Real Madrid player in history".

Former England and Man United midfielder Sir Bobby Charlton remembered him as a "great player and a great man", adding that he had never seen such a complete footballer.

Di Stefano had went into a coma after suffering from a heart attack last Saturday at a restaurant near Real's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

He was taken to the Gregorio Maranon hospital, where he died last night.

Di Stefano was an accomplished defender, a midfield workhorse, a playmaker and a prolific striker.

He could be seen covering back in defence, charging through the midfield, laying on goals for the forwards and smashing shots into the net all in the same game.

Known as "La Saeta Rubia" (the blond arrow), Di Stefano's achievements as a player helped turn Real Madrid, the Spanish club he joined in 1953, into one of the world's leading sides.

He transformed them from insignificant underachievers into the kings of the continent, guiding them to five successive European Cups between 1956 and 1960, scoring in each of the finals.

Former England striker Gary Lineker believes that record will never be breached.

Lineker tweeted: "Di Stefano... Scored in 5 successive European Cup finals. A feat never to be matched."

Di Stefano was the progenitor of "total football" and years ahead of his time in terms of his approach to his professional career. In modern parlance, he was the first "Galactico".

"I always felt like I had a job to do and that means you have to perform to perfection," Di Stefano said in an interview with Spanish football weekly Don Balon in October 2010.

"I tried my hardest and people rewarded me with applause."

Di Stefano signed for River Plate at the age of 15, making his debut for the first team two years later. He won two league titles and steered Argentina to victory in the Copa America at the age of 20, scoring six goals in six games.

He then joined the lucrative Colombian league, lured to Millonarios of Bogota in 1949, and also made a handful of appearances for Colombia.

He caught the eye in Spain when he played in an exhibition match as part of Real's 50th anniversary celebrations in 1952 and became the object of one of the most controversial transfer sagas in the history of Spanish football as Real and Barcelona fought to sign him.

REAL LEGEND

Di Stefano eventually went to Real, where he spent 11 eventful seasons, and left after falling out with president Santiago Bernabeu.

He joined Espanyol, retiring two seasons later at the age of 40.

As a coach, he also had a distinguished career.

He managed Argentina's two biggest teams, Boca Juniors and River Plate, leading each club to a league title and also guided Valencia to only their fourth Spanish championship in 1971 and to victory in the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1980.

He returned to Real Madrid as coach between 1982 and 1984, guiding them to runners-up in consecutive seasons.

His international career was less dazzling, though.

He scored 23 goals in 31 games for Spain, remarkably the third country he represented, but for a variety of reasons never graced a World Cup, missing the 1962 tournament due to injury.

His advice to young footballers? Always listen to your coaches and remember that football is a team game.

He had said in a 2010 interview: "There are some who, when they play football, they carry the ball ta-ta-ta, but they are jugglers not footballers.

"The less you have the ball at your feet, the better."

Possibly the highest tribute came in 2009 from Brazil legend Pele, who said: "People argue between Pele or Maradona. For me, Di Stefano is the best. He was much more complete."

Following Di Stefano's death, Pele praised him for being a trailblazer.

Said Pele: "Today the openness between Latin American players and European clubs is very much due to the work of Alfredo Di Stefano.

"He was a trailblazer, and most of all, he was a legend of the game. God rest his soul." - Wire Services.


People argue between Pele or Maradona. For me, Di Stefano is the best. He was much more complete.

— Brazil legend Pele, on Alfredo Di Stefano