When we view Alfredo Di Stefano in his current state at public events, we are reminded that the uncompromising currents of time leave no shore untouched. Di Stefano, the “Golden Arrow” from Argentina, was once the physical embodiment of footballing perfection. His tandem with Puskas inspired fear, respect, and admiration around the world. And the two of them led Real Madrid to unparalleled heights of glory.
The darkest chapter of Di Stefano’s career was the opening page. At the time of his signing, Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist and put in place machinations to ensure his centrally based Real Madrid got preferential treatment when possible. Initially, Di Stefano was recruited by Barcelona, but the Catalan side soon backed down. Exactly how or why remains a mystery, but even the dark fog of such inauspicious beginnings could not cloud his entire career.
Di Stefano’s career stats put modern footballers to shame. The Golden Arrow scored 216 goals in 282 league matches, a great strike rate and best for second all time on Real Madrid’s hall of fame (after Raul). He also formed a lethal strike partnership with Ferenc Puskas. The two of them combined like pasta and marinara sauce, producing stunning goals from moments of individual and intuitive brilliance.
While Di Stefano favored his right foot for shooting (and scored the majority of his goal low and to the keeper’s left), he was the original two-footed dribbler. He also used both sides of both feet, and his experimentation with heel passes set the stage for later taconitos. In sum, he was an innovator on the field who dazzled defenses and fans with pivots, feints, and incredible balance.
While Puskas had the shooting preferences of a stationary sniper, Di Stefano was a gracefully stampeding commando, seemingly able to pull the strigger at any angle in full stride. And his shots on the trot were no (fat) Ronaldo far post toe pokes – they usually carried enough mustard to cover a Big Mac.
And the trophy case? I think you mean “cases”. He won the European championship in 5 consecutive seasons, 8 La Liga titles, and the Pichichi top scorer crown 5 times.
This is my favorite Di Stefano homage video – you will enjoy it even if you don’t speak Spanish.
For all the fuss over modern players switching countries, Di Stefano played for Argentina, Colombia, and Spain. While his national team(s) success never reached his blanquillo heights, he did win a South American championship with Argentina. He never participated in a World Cup.
After his playing days, Di Stefano had successful spells coaching Boca Jrs. and River Plate, winning titles with both teams but in different decades. He also managed Valencia to a La Liga title.
Di Stefano admitted that Diego Maradonna had superior technical skills, although Dieguito asserted that “I don’t know if I was a better player than Pelé, but I can say without any doubt that di Stéfano was better than Pelé.” I place Pele and Diego above Di Stefano, but he and George Best occupy a second pedestal for mortals with feet touched by the divine.