Alfredo di Stéfano

Alfredo di Stefano

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  • Biography
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- Curriculum Vitea -
Name Alfredo di Stéfano Laulhe
Born June 4, 1926 (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Position Centre Forward
Caps 41 [1] (29 goals)
Clubs River Plate, Huracán, Millonarios Bogota, Real Madrid, Espanyol
As a coach Alfredo di Stefano was active for Elche, Boca Juniors, Valencia, Sporting Lisbon, Rayo Vallecano, Castellón, River Plate and Real Madrid
Trophies Argentina
1x Copa America (1947)
Real Madrid
1x Intercontinental Cup (1960)
5x European Cup (1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960)
8x Spanish Champion (1954, '55, '57, '58, '61, '62, '63, '64)
1x Spanish Cup (1962)
River Plate
2x Argentinean Champion (1945, 1947)
Millonarios de Bogota
3x Colombian Champion (1949, 1951, 1952)[2]
As a coach Alfredo di Stefano won the European Cup Winners Cup (1980) and the Spanish championship (1971) with Valencia, the Argentinean championship with Boca Juniors (1970) and River Plate (1981), and the Spanish Super Cup with Real Madrid (1991)
Honours 2x European Footballer of the Year (1957, 1959)
1x Top Scorer Argentina (1947)
2x Top Scorer Colombia (1951, 1952)
5x Top Scorer Spain (1954, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959)

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- Biography -

Alfredo di Stéfano was the driving force behind Real Madrid's domination of the European Cup in the late 1950's. Real won the trophy five times in a row, with the Saeta rubia (blonde arrow), as the Argentinean was called because of his speed, scoring in each of the finals. Di Stefano was an incredibly versatile forward, who combined speed with a superb technique, stamina, tactical insight, and an ability to score goals. It is not surprising then that many believe him to be the best all-round player in history, if indeed not the best player out right.

Di Stefano got his start at River Plate, the club his father had played for, but competition from a very successful established attacking line-up meant that he played his first full season in 1946 on loan at Huracán. Legend has it that his first match for the club was against his employers, River Plate, and that Di Stefano scored within seconds of the start of the game. Next season room was found in the team for the young forward at River Plate. Di Stefano did not disappoint, producing 27 goals in 30 matches and finishing top scorer as River won the league. It earned him a place in the Argentinean squad for the 1947 Copa America. Di Stefano went as a reserve, but injuries saw him make the team and again he did not disappoint those that had placed trust in him. He scored six goals in six matches as Argentina won the tournament.

Millonarios Bogota
In 1949 Argentina found itself in the grips of a general strike that also paralysed professional football. The clubs responded by finishing the season with amateur replacements. Many professionals sought refuge in foreign leagues. Di Stefano was persuaded to uproot to Colombia, where a wild league was being played ever since the country's FA had cut it's ties with FIFA. He signed with the suggestively named Millonarios Bogota. The Argentinean would stay in Bogota for three and a half seasons, winning three titles and topping the Colombian top scorers list twice. In 1952, as part of a World tour, Millonarios appeared in a tournament that Real Madrid were hosting to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Millonarios, a force to be reckoned with in those day, won the tournament and Di Stefano attracted the attention of Spanish scouts.

Alfredo di Stefano in action during the final of the 1956 European Cup
Alfredo di Stefano in action during the final of the 1956 European Cup

It soon became clear that Di Stefano's future would lie in Spain, with Barcelona seemingly on their way to signing the South American star. But Di Stefano's arrival in the country in May of 1943 proved to be the start of an unparalleled farce that ended in him joining Real Madrid. Barcelona followers have since been convinced that their club missing out on what would turn out to be one of the greatest players in the history of European club football was the result of the backstage shenanigans of the hated Franco regime. In fact Barcelona had made a complete mess of the transfer talks with Millonarios all by themselves, and ended up signing a transfer agreement only with River Plate. Turning to a club the player hadn't played for in almost four years wasn't as strange as it seemed. Because of the curious circumstances of Di Stefano's move to Colombia no transfer fee had changed hands and River Plate were within their rights to claim that it was they who still held the transfer rights to the player. However, by leaving out Millonarios from the deal it seemed as if Barcelona were poaching Di Stefano from the Colombians, who's FA had by that time rejoined FIFA and who were quite willing to share the transfer fee with River Plate. Consequently, the Spanish FA decided not to approve the transfer.

In the commotion that ensued, Real Madrid chairman Santiago Bernabéu was able to interest Di Stefano in signing for his club instead and concluded a transfer agreement with Millonarios. Now both clubs could claim to have bought Di Stefano. More than three months after the Argentinean's arrival in the country, the Spanish FA Solomonically decided that the clubs would just have to share the player. Di Stefano would play the 1943-1944 season for Real, and then switch to Barcelona for the next season. The clubs reluctantly agreed and in september 1943 Di Stefano made his debut in the Spanish league. When the deal became known in Catalonia, an uproar ensued that ended in the Barcelona board resigning their positions. The interim board decided that is was best to just forget about Di Stefano and sold their share of his transfer rights to Real. Their decision might have been influenced by the fact that Di Stefano, who had hardly played a match in months, had not been all that impressive for Real Madrid yet. They might have scratched their heads when the Argentinean striker scored a hat-trick against Barcelona only days after the deal was penned.

Di Stefano tries to backheel the ball past Man United goalie Harry Gregg
Di Stefano tries to backheel the ball past Man United goalie Harry Gregg

Real Madrid
Now how pleased the 27-year old Di Stefano should actually have been with ending up playing for Real instead of Barcelona, remained very much up for question. Barcelona had won the Spanish league four times in the previous six years, whereas Real Madrid hadn't been able to manage winning the title for no less than twenty years. But Real's fortunes took a sharp turn for the better with the arrival of Alfredo di Stefano. They hit the jackpot in his very first season, winning the league for the first time since 1933, with their South American striker topping the Spanish top scorers list. It would prove the start of a Golden Age unparalleled in football history. During Di Stefano's eleven years in Madrid, the club won the league eight times. As if that weren't enough, they also won the first five editions of the European Cup, from 1956 to 1969, the inaugural Intercontinental Cup in 1960, and a Spanish cup in 1962. Di Stefano topped the top scorers list on five occasions during his years in Spain, and scored a goal in every one of Real's five European Cup finals.

That Real Madrid's renaissance started when Di Stefano arrived at the club was no coincidence. The Real of the late fifties harboured more stars, like Gento, Kopa and Puskas, but none had the impact of Di Stefano. He was much more than just a goal getter. Far from content to spend is time poaching goals, he would often drop back to direct play or help defend. However thanks to his speed and incredible stamina he could always be counted on the make it back up front when it mattered. His approach to his role was revolutionary. He may well have been the first ever striker to actively defend when the opposition were in possession. It spoke volumes of his firm conviction that football was a team sport and no-one should imagine himself greater than the team. The flip-side of his willingness to subjugate himself to the team interest was the fact that he expected his team mates to show the same effort and desire to win that he exhibited. It is telling that in an interview a few years ago, Di Stefano spoke of his irritation at the habit in today's football of thanking a fellow player with applause or a little gesture for passing the ball, even if the pass proves to be inaccurate. In the days of the great Real Madrid a player who botched up an important pass would have gotten an earful instead receiving thanks. The bar can never be raised too high.

 Alfredo di Stefano poses with the five European Cups he helped Real win
Alfredo di Stefano poses with the five European Cups he helped Real win

Alfredo di Stefano was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1957 and 1959. He qualified for that title thanks to his having applied for, and subsequently received, Spanish citizenship in 1956, after Real had requested him to do so in order to enable them to field an extra foreign player. As a result Alfredo di Stefano could now represent Spain at the international level. Although Di Stefano had already turned thirty, it was an gift the national manager of Spain was not going to turn down. Di Stefano received his passport in october of 1956 and made his debut for Spain in January of 1957, promptly producing a hat-trick against the Netherlands. Promising as the start may have been, Di Stefano's international career for Spain would ultimately be a very disappointing one. He scored 23 goals in 31 matched, but never made it to an international tournament with his adopted country. Spain failed to make it to the 1958 World Cup, finishing second in their qualifying group behind Scotland. In 1960 the Franco regime forbade the team from playing against the Soviet Union, which meant the Spanish were forced to bow out of the inaugural European Championship. And when Spain did manage to qualify for a tournament, the 1962 World Cup, Di Stefano had to pull out with an injury, leaving him with the distinctly unenviable honour of competing with George Best for the title of best footballer never to have played a World Cup.

In 1964 Alfredo di Stefano left Madrid and finally ended up playing his football in Barcelona, albeit at Espanyol. He would play for two more seasons before retiring at the age of 40. After hanging up his boots, Di Stefano embarked on a managerial career that would see him coach such clubs as Boca Juniors, Valencia, Sporting Lisbon, Rayo Vallecano, River Plate and Real Madrid. He was more successful at it than most, winning the European Cup Winners Cup and the Spanish league with Valencia, and the Argentinean League with Boca and River, but reproducing his successes as a player was a task Di Stefano was never going to manage.

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- League Matches -

Season Club Country Matches Goals
1965 - 1966 Espanyol Spain 23 4
1964 - 1965 Espanyol Spain 24 7
1963 - 1964 Real Madrid Spain 24 11
1962 - 1963 Real Madrid Spain 13 12
1961 - 1962 Real Madrid Spain 23 11
1960 - 1961 Real Madrid Spain 23 21
1959 - 1960 Real Madrid Spain 23 12
1958 - 1959 Real Madrid Spain 28 23
1957 - 1958 Real Madrid Spain 30 19
1956 - 1957 Real Madrid Spain 30 31
1955 - 1956 Real Madrid Spain 30 24
1954 - 1955 Real Madrid Spain 30 25
1953 - 1954 Real Madrid Spain 28 27
1952 Millonarios Bogota Colombia 24 19
1951 Millonarios Bogota Colombia 34 31
1950 Millonarios Bogota Colombia 29 23
1949 Millonarios Bogota
River Plate
1948 River Plate Argentinia 23 13
1947 River Plate Argentinia 30 27
1946 Huracán Argentinia 25 10
1945 River Plate Argentinia 1 0
Total: 522 374

#01: Alfredo di Stefano played 6 internationals for Argentina (scoring 6 goals), 4 for Colombia (scoring 0 goals), and 31 for Spain (scoring 23 goals).
#02: Often the 1943 Colombian Championship is also listed among Di Stefano's achievements, but in fact he did not play any games for Millonarios that season. He was in Spain trying to get his transfer to Real or Barça sorted out.