Alfredo Di Stefano, who set a scoring record for Real Madrid and helped the Spanish soccer team win five European cups from 1956 to 1960 with a goal in each final, has died. He was 88.
He died today at Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid, Real Madrid said on its website. He had suffered a heart attack in on July 5.
Di Stefano amassed about 800 goals in his career, making him one of soccer’s all-time scorers. He was the star of Real Madrid’s most successful period and was named European player of the year in 1957 and 1959.
“He was like an all-purpose jeep: he could dribble, tackle, head, shoot,” Eduardo Pena, a former Real Madrid director, said in a 2007 interview. What three-time world player of the year Zinedine Zidane managed to do in sporadic flashes for Real Madrid, Di Stefano “did for the 90 minutes of a game,” Pena said.
Di Stefano helped build Real Madrid’s reputation, prompting its former president Santiago Bernabeu to once remark that half the bricks of the team’s home stadium were provided by the forward. The record 10-time European champion was voted in the best team of the 20th century in a poll run by soccer ruling body FIFA in 2000.
As an international player, Di Stefano represented his native Argentina at age 20 and went on to play for Colombia, during four years at Bogota team Millonarios, and Spain, where he took nationality in 1957. He never played in a World Cup.
Alfredo Stefano Di Stefano Laulhe was born on July 4, 1926, and raised by Italian immigrants on a farm in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.
He joined the city’s River Plate club at age 15 and made his debut a year later during a temporary trade to its rival, Huracan, where he got 55 goals in 66 games. He returned to River Plate, helping it win two league crowns, before taking four titles in Colombia with Millonarios.
At 27, Di Stefano moved to Real Madrid, then without a league title in 20 years, and helped the team win eight championships in 11 years.
Nicknamed “The Blond Arrow,” he was the league’s top scorer five times, netting 307 goals for Madrid, a record that stood for four decades. Many of those goals were set up by winger Francisco Gento, and Di Stefano also played alongside another legend of the game, Ferenc Puskas, in the all-white strip of Madrid.
“Di Stefano galvanized the team,” said Pena, a team director from 1995 to 1999 who watched him as a fan. “He’d swear at a teammate if he didn’t chase a ball that was going out of play.”
Di Stefano’s 49-goal tally for Madrid in the European Cup included a hat-trick in its 7-3 win against Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 final in Glasgow before a crowd of about 130,000.
His scoring record stood until 2009 when it was broken by Raul Gonzalez.
On a team tour of Venezuela in 1963, Di Stefano was kidnapped by the National Liberation Army Front which told him it was only seeking publicity and soon released him, according to “White Storm: 100 Years of Real Madrid” (Mainstream Publishing Co. 2002) by Phil Ball. The incident made headlines around the world.
Di Stefano left Madrid at age 38, against his will according to Ball, and ended his career at Barcelona club Espanyol, where he played his last 19 games.
He made the Spanish capital his home after playing, later having a sculpture of a soccer ball erected in his garden, Pena said. Etched on it were the words “Gracias, Vieja” -- or “Thanks, Old Thing.”
Former Inter Milan coach Helenio Herrera rated Di Stefano as the best all-round soccer player.
“He was, simultaneously, the anchor in defense, the playmaker in midfield and the most dangerous marksman in attack,” Herrera once said.
Off the field, Di Stefano spoke little and had trouble expressing himself, a result of his humble upbringing.
“He could be rude and dry,” Pena said.
He failed to have the same impact at Real Madrid when he returned as a coach in 1982, lasting two seasons in the job. He also coached Boca Juniors, Valencia and Sporting Lisbon among other teams.
His links with Madrid continued after his coaching career. He was named the team’s so-called President of Honor in 2000 and attended events including annual meetings of members alongside current president Florentino Perez.
Di Stefano, a smoker since his playing days, had heart bypass surgery in Valencia, Spain, in December 2004 after suffering a heart attack on Christmas Eve.
Sara, his wife of 55 years, died in 2005. The couple had four daughters and two sons.