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World football was dealt a cruel blow earlier this week.

When the news broke that Real Madrid icon Alfredo Di Stefano had sadly passed away at the age of 88.

Alfredo Di Stefano: The original GalacticoSaeta Rubia, or the ‘Blonde Arrow’, was an irresistible force in his heyday, considered by many as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, footballer to have ever graced a football pitch. Many of his peers, such as Pele, Diego Maradona and Eusebio, among others, have hailed his genius. The man himself once noted that football has given him everything, but the fact of the matter is that Alfredo Di Stefano has given football much, much more.

Alfredo Di StefanoAlfredo Stefano Di Stefano Laulhe was born on the 4th of July 1926 in Barracas, a neighborhood in Argentinian capital city Buenos Aires. The footballer started his remarkable career in 1943 at the age of only 17 for the iconic Argentine club River Plate, where his immense talents, albeit still very raw, immediately became clearly apparent. However, he was loaned to Club Atletico Huracan for the 1946 season to build up more experience, for the River Plate team at that time was chock full of established stars such as Jose Manuel Moreno keeping the youngster out of the side. As the Argentine footballers’ strike began in 1949, Di Stefano moved to Colombian League club Millonarios based in Bogota in order to keep playing the game he loved so much.

It was at Millonarios where Di Stefano would achieve most of his early success and fame, as he went on to win numerous league titles in the booming climate of the Colombian League. Saeta Rubia began to showcase his signature play-making ability during this period, with his ability to exploit open spaces on the pitch to the advantage of himself and his teammates being revolutionary at the time. All in all, his time in South America was hugely successful, with Di Stefano winning six League titles in both Argentina and Colombia over the first twelve years of his playing career. This eventually resulted in interest from European clubs, most notably Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, especially after Millonarios had played and impressed in an invitational tournament held in Spain in 1953. This was the catalyst to set in motion one of the most bizarre transfer sagas in all of football history, which also served to strengthen the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Real Madrid president Santiago Bernabeu was greatly impressed with Saeta Rubia when he first witnessed the Argentine in action, and swiftly struck a deal with Millonarios for his transfer. However, Barcelona had also made a deal for Di Stefano, but with River Plate, who were still the owners of the player according to FIFA, due to the Colombian football association not being recognised as a member of FIFA at that juncture in time. The Spanish Football Federation, on the other hand, did not recognise this deal, which resulted in both teams going to court. This resulted in a ruling being made which would allow Di Stefano to play for four seasons in Spain, alternating seasons between rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. However, the Catalans renounced their claim on Di Stefano for reasons still disputed, allowing Real Madrid to take full ownership of the Argentine.

This was to be the moment that propelled Real Madrid, and Saeta Rubia, to legendary status, as the club went to win eight Spanish Primera Division titles and a Copa del Rey triumph in 1962. It was on the European stage that Real Madrid rose above all others, though, with Di Stefano alongside legendary Hungarian forward Ferenc Puskas leading Los Blancos to an unequaled five consecutive European Cup triumphs, cementing the status of Real Madrid as the pre-eminent club in world football. The ability that Saeta Rubia had to play all over the pitch in a fluent style was almost like a glimpse to the future, with Johan Cruyff and his revolutionary Dutch ‘Total Football’ to come more than a decade later.

Di Stefano never really was able to cement himself as an international legend, due to the fact that he represented Argentina, Colombia and Spain over the course of his career. Also, the fact that Saeta Rubia was never able to showcase his talents at the grandest stage of all, the World Cup, slightly diminished his value in the eyes of many who hail the international exploits of Pele and Diego Maradona. However, there is no doubt that the purists and students of football recognise the immense importance of Di Stefano, with the Argentine being the first player who could truly exploit space on the pitch to his advantage, not playing as a rigidly positioned player with clear restrictions and limitations.

After his retirement, Di Stefano moved quite successfully into management, leading both Boca Juniors and his beloved River Plate to league titles in Argentina. On his return to Spain, Saeta Rubia guided Valencia to League glory, along with a Copa del Rey win and European triumph in the Cup Winners’ Cup. As Real Madrid manager, the 1982-1983 season was an unmitigated disaster, with Los Blancos finishing second in La Liga, Copa del Rey and the Supercopa de Espana, also falling to the legendary Aberdeen side lead by a certain Alex Ferguson in the Cup Winners’ Cup. Di Stefano was named as the honorary president of Real Madrid in 2000, very much becoming the face of the Galactico era in the 21st century when big name signings became the order of the day.

There can be no doubt that Alfredo Di Stefano is one of the defining figures in football as we know today, and there is a serious case to be made that the Real Madrid icon was the most complete player ever to grace a football pitch.

Originally published at inthestandsport.com

Post written by Marco Conradie, Twitter: @MarcoConradie10
for InTheStandSport, Blog: inthestandsport.com, Twitter: @InTheStandSport

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