The Career of Alfredo di Stéfano
When we talk, discuss, or argue about the world’s greatest football player of all time, the majority of our minds are predominantly split between Pele and Diego Maradona. However, the current generation of football fans knows very little about a certain Argentinean maestro by the name of Alfredo di Stéfano Laulhé. Arguably the greatest of his time, Di Stéfano introduced and perfected a new dimension of playing the beautiful game.
Born on July 4, 1926 in Barracas, Argentina to a family of Italian immigrants, Alfredo Di Stéfano was a powerful forward with unparalleled stamina, tactical prowess, supreme vision, and the versatility to play anywhere on the football field.[i] As a result of years of hard work, discipline, and dedication during his younger days, Di Stéfano broke into the first team squad of River Plate at the tender age of 16.[ii] However, facing stiff competition from a intimidating forward line of Adolfo Pedernera and Angel Labruna, the young starlet Di Stéfano was loaned to Huracana to polish his already impressive skills, and gain experience in the Argentinean Primera División.
Following the sale of club legend Pedernera to Atlanta, it was time for Di Stéfano to be recalled to lead La Maquina frontline of River Plate.[iii] Di Stéfano was the leading scorer with 27 goals in his first year back in Buenos Aires, instrumental in leading River to the Primera División in 1947.[iv] He was therefore called up to represent the national team, and it was around this time that he was fondly called La Saeta Rubia, or the ‘Blond Arrow’ by the fans and media. The nickname was owed to the color of his hair and his supreme speed going forward.[v] After two years of great domestic success with River and Los Albicelestes, Di Stéfano moved to Colombian club Millanarios where he scored 267 goals and helped the club to four league titles between 1949 and 1953.[vi]
Widely considered the best player in South America, Di Stéfano attracted great interest from the likes of European clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona. Real Madrid and President Santiago Bernabéu swooped in and secure the services of Di Stéfano, in arguably one of the most important sporting, marketing, and business acquisitions made by any football club in the world. Santiago Bernabeu saw Di Stéfano as the ultimate centerpiece of the dream team he wanted to build, to conquer Spain and Europe. Having built one of the biggest and most technologically advanced stadiums in 1947, Bernabeu was able to fill the 80,000 capacity stadium week in and week out due to the champagne football put on display by Di Stéfano and his world class team mates, such as Puskás, Kopa, Gento, and Santamaria.[vii][viii]
Alfredo Di Stéfano was an outstanding player and the closest thing to a total footballer, in the sense that he was a player who was able to express the right mix of athletic accomplishments and exceptional technical skills. Di Stéfano introduced and symbolized total football way before Rinus Michel’s Ajax revolution in the 1960s. Miguel Muñoz, Di Stéfano’s coach at Real Madrid, pointed out the Argentinean’s extraordinary versatility when he felt that “The greatness of Di Stéfano was that, with him in your side, you had two players in every position.”[ix]
Even the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton was left in awe by the unparalleled influence of the “Blond Arrow” on the football pitch. Watching from the stands of the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium during the semi final first leg between Real Madrid and Manchester United, Sir Bobby Charlton asked, “Who is this man? 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. It was as though he had set up his own command centre at the heart of the game. He was as strong as he was subtle. The combination of qualities was mesmerizing.”[x]
Whether it was defending, attacking, stopping goals, scoring goals, setting up goals, all mixed with pace, vision, strength and fighting spirit, Alfredo Di Stéfano single handedly placed Real Madrid and Spanish Football at the centre of the European Football. Striking up a fearsome partnership with Ferenc Puskás , the “Blond Arrow” scored 216 goals in La Liga and 49 in the European Cup. This was instrumental in Real Madrid dominating domestic and European Football for a decade between 1954 and 1964.[xi] During Di Stéfano’s stint at the club, Los Blancos played glorious, breathtaking football and steamrolled their way to 8 La Liga titles, 5 European Cup’s, a Copa Del Rey, and a Intercontinental Cup.[xii] He also picked up a whole host of individual accolades including multiple Pichichi’s, European Top Scorer award in 1958 and 1962 and two Ballon d’Or’s awarded to the best player in Europe in 1957 and 1959.[xiii] Truly, he was one of the best players of all-time.
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[i] “Alfredo Di Stéfano”. Wikipedia. 8 October 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfredo_di_St%C3%A9fano#Club>.
[ii] “Di Stéfano, a legend in white”. FIFA. 6 October 2009. <http://www.fifa.com/newscentre/news/newsid=1032698.html>.
[iii] “Real Madrid Legends: Di Stéfano”. Real Madrid . 4 October 2009. <http://www.realmadrid.com/cs/Satellite/en/1193041516860/1202817703443/jugador/JugadorLegendario/Di_Stéfano.htm>
[iv] Chiu, Ronald. “The Legend of Di Stéfano: The Blond Arrow of River Plate”. 9 October 2009. <http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Bleachers/7429/DiStéfanoLarg.htm>
[v] “Real Madrid Legends: Di Stéfano”.
[vi] “Real Madrid Legends: Di Stéfano”.
[vii] “Classic Football Stadiums: Santiago Bernabeu”. FIFA. 9 October 2009 <http://www.fifa.com/classicfootball/stadiums/stadium=456/index.html>.
[viii] “Our Legends: Alfredo DI STÉFANO”. Golden Foot. 8 October 2009 <http://www.goldenfoot.com/acm-on-line/Home/GoldenFoot/OurChampions/scheda2584.html>
[ix] Chiu, Ronald. “The Legend of Di Stéfano: What they said”. 9 October 2009. <http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Bleachers/7429/DiStéfanoLarg.htm>
[x] Galvin, Robert. The Football Hall of Fame: The Official Guide to the Greatest Footballing Legends of All Time. Anova Books, September 2008.
[xi] “Real Madrid Legends: Di Stéfano”.
[xii] “Real Madrid CF”. UEFA. 9 October 2009 <http://www.uefa.com/footballeurope/club=50051/competition=1/index.html>
[xiii] “Alfredo di Stéfano”, Wikipedia
Image of di Stéfano courtesy: http://web.tiscalinet.it/silviodr/campioni.htm
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