Alfredo Di Stefano: A true legend of the game

Sports Mole looks over the incredible career of the late Alfredo Di Stefano.

Monday July 7, 2014 will forever be remembered as the day that one of football's greatest legends – Alfredo Di Stefano – lost his final battle.

The 88-year-old was taken ill over the weekend after suffering a heart attack, which ultimately claimed his life at around 5.15pm local time in Spain on Monday.

The word 'legend', especially in football, is continually overused. However, that is simply not the case with Di Stefano, who has certainly left an imprint on the game.

Here, Sports Mole takes a closer look at the incredible career of the Argentine-Spanish footballer.

Alfredo di Stefano attends a Real Madrid friendly on May 09, 2006.© Getty Images

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1926, Di Stefano was the eldest son of Italian parents. He spent his youth working on his parents' farm, but his talent on a football pitch was spotted at an early age – joining local youth team Los Cardales at the age of 12.

Five years later, he began his professional playing career with River Plate, scoring a stunning 53 goals in 72 games for the Argentine club.

Success on an international level also arrived, with Di Stefano scoring six times in as many matches to help Argentina win the 1947 Copa America.

However, his club career in Argentina ended somewhat abruptly and he moved on to Colombia in 1949, where he continued his stunning goal return with 267 strikes in 294 games for Millonarios.

It was not much of a surprise that his form in South America attracted interest from Europe and it was Real Madrid that eventually brought the forward to Spain in 1953.

His move to Madrid was not short of controversy, however, with a prior arrangement with Barcelona complicating proceedings. Following a host of discussions, Barcelona eventually pulled out of the deal and Di Stefano was free to fully concentrate his efforts at the Bernabeu.

In his first season at Madrid, Di Stefano helped the Spanish club claim just their second league title, ending a 21-year wait in the process.

In total, he scored 307 goals in 396 appearances for Madrid, winning eight league titles, a Copa del Rey and five Pichichi trophies. The forward also helped Los Blancos claim an incredible five successive European Cups, with Di Stefano scoring in all five finals, including a hat-trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960 – a fixture that is widely regarded as one of the best matches of all time.

His record of 49 goals in 58 matches in the European Cup was, for decades, the all-time highest tally. However, fellow Madrid legend Raul broke that record in 2005, before Andriy Shevchenko and then Ruud van Nistelrooy followed suit in 2006.

Alfredo di Stefano poses with a football on June 12, 1956.© Getty Images

Following his passing on Monday, Madrid president Florentino Perez paid his own tribute: "Alfredo Di Stefano is Real Madrid. He was decisive, determinant and changed the destiny of this institution."

Alongside the late Ferenc Puskas, Di Stefano formed arguably the greatest striking partnership that the game has ever witnessed. He gained Spanish citizenship in 1956 and made his La Roja debut in 1957, going on to score 23 times in 31 appearances for his adopted country.

The forward, however, never got the chance to play at a World Cup due Argentina's withdrawal in both 1950 and 1954. He did help Spain qualify for the competition in 1962, but a muscular injury prevented his involvement at the finals.

While Di Stefano's playing career at the Bernabeu was his most productive, the forward also enjoyed a spell with Espanyol, scoring 14 times in 60 appearances for the Barcelona-based club between 1964 and 1966, eventually hanging up his boots at the age of 40.

Following the end of his playing career, Di Stefano stepped into management and led Argentine clubs Boca Juniors and River Plate to league titles, in addition to winning La Liga with Valencia.

He also had two separate managerial spells with Madrid – between 1982 and 1984 and 1990-91 – before stepping away from the sport altogether in 1991.

Alfredo di Stefano unveils Ronaldo as a Real Madrid player on September 02, 2002.© Getty Images

In May 2006, the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium was inaugurated at the City of Real Madrid, where Los Blancos usually train. Six years earlier, he had been named as Honourary President of the Spanish club following 11 years' service as a player and three as a manager.

Diego Maradona and Pele are seen by many as the two greatest players to ever grace the game, but that is not the case for those that played alongside or against Di Stefano. Even Pele himself has his doubts. "People argue between Pele or Maradona," Pele said in 2009. "For me, Di Stefano is the best. He was much more complete."

Former Manchester United and England legend Bobby Charlton, meanwhile, once said: "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 mesmerising."

When asked to sum up his career in one sentence, Di Stefano simply relied: "Football has given me everything".

That might be true, but it was him that gave the game something truly special.

Chelsea's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho gestures during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge in west London on February 8, 2014
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