FOOTBALL’S leading figures last night paid their respects after Alfredo di Stefano, regarded by some as the greatest player of all time, died at the age of 88 following a heart attack.
Di Stefano was born in Argentina but was better known for his time in Spain, where he led Real Madrid to five consecutive European Cup triumphs between 1956 and 1960, scoring in each final. That extraordinary run has never been equalled and culminated in the forward’s hat-trick in a 7-3 final thrashing of Eintracht Frankfurt at Glasgow’s Hampden Park.
England World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton, whose Manchester United side faced a Di Stefano-inspired Real during their golden era, called him “a great player and a great man”.
Charlton added: “Alfredo Di Stefano was one of the best players I ever came across and an extremely intelligent footballer. I feel privileged to be able to call him a good friend.”
Di Stefano passed away in Madrid yesterday afternoon, two days after his heart attack. Real said his body would be displayed at their stadium from this morning for mourners to pay respects.
Current Real star Cristiano Ronaldo called it “a very sad day for me, for all the Madridistas, for the world of football”, while goalkeeper Iker Casillas said he was “the greatest”. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who managed the Spanish club until last summer, called honorary president Di Stefano “a special person”.
Di Stefano won multiple league titles in Argentina, with River Plate, and Colombia, with Millonarios, before moving to Europe in 1953, aged 27. There he helped Real to win eight league titles, one Spanish Cup, and an Intercontinental Cup during his 11 years at the club – as well as those European Cups, the first five in the tournament’s history.
Di Stefano scored more than 300 goals for Real, including 216 in 262 league games, and 23 in 31 internationals for Spain, although he never played at a World Cup.