Pele, Lionel Messi, Alex Ferguson pay tribute to late Alfredo di Stefano

The great and the good of world football praise the former Real Madrid forward, who has died aged 88

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 11:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 1:25am

Tributes flowed as quickly as the news of Alfredo Di Stefano's death spread across continents, with Pele joining modern stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi among the thousands praising the Real Madrid great as a luminary of the game.

Di Stefano, the Argentine forward who helped lead Madrid in their glorious era in the 1950s and '60s, died on Monday aged 88, two days after he was admitted to hospital because of a heart attack.

"Don Alfredo leaves us, but his memory will last forever in our hearts," Real Madrid star Ronaldo wrote on Twitter. "Legends never die. Thanks for everything Maestro."

Messi, the Barcelona star who is in Brazil preparing to lead Argentina into the World Cup semi-finals against Netherlands, said: "The world lost a legend today, Don Alfredo Di Stefano."

"An amazing man on and off the field," Messi added in a Facebook post. "My thoughts are with his family and friends."

Pele posted a tribute on Twitter from Brazil, saying: "The openness between Latin American players and European clubs is very much due to the work of Alfredo Di Stefano.

"He was a trailblazer, and most of all, he was a legend of the game. God rest his soul."

Born July 4, 1926, in the Barracas suburb of Buenos Aires, near the port where British sailors introduced football to Argentina, Di Stefano learned the game in what he called "the academy of the streets".

La Saeta Rubia - or "The Blonde Arrow", Di Stefano helped Madrid win five straight European club titles from 1956-60, and eight Spanish league titles. He was voted European player of the year in 1957 and 1959 and named Real Madrid's honorary president in 2000.

In a career spanning five clubs in three countries - Argentina, Colombia and Spain - from 1945-1966, Di Stefano scored 789 goals in 1,090 matches. In the process he claimed top-scorer status once in the Argentine league, twice in Colombia's league and five times in Spain.

Football's official hierarchy responded swiftly to note Di Stefano's contribution to the game, with Fifa president Sepp Blatter describing him as his "favourite player" and "the most complete player I've seen".

French great and European football chief Michel Platini praised Di Stefano for revolutionising football.

"He won everyone's hearts with his brilliance as part of the legendary Real Madrid team that left its indelible mark on European football," Platini said. "He was superb technically, possessed outstanding speed and was a splendid goal-scorer.

"Together with his gifted teammates, he helped invent modern football. He embodied all that is magical about football, in Europe and across the world."

Madrid's club website trumpeted Di Stefano as "the best player of all time", putting him above other leading players to have donned Madrid's all-white uniform, which include Ferenc Puskas, Raul Gonzalez and Zinedine Zidane, among others.

The club's president Florentino Perez said: "Real Madrid's best player has left us. He changed the history of this club and the history of football as well. He helped transform this club into the biggest sporting institution in the world."

Barcelona, Madrid's arch rivals who came close to luring Di Stefano when he moved to Spain, joined other clubs in expressing their sympathies.

"With the farewell of Di Stefano, one of the greats in the history of football has gone," Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said.

Di Stefano played for Argentina and Spain, but he never played at the World Cup.

The Argentine FA said its president, Julio Grondona, "is deeply affected by the passing of this icon of world football".

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said Di Stefano was among the greatest players of all time because of his balance and poise. "I was very sad to hear the news. Even at 88 it is a bit of a shock," he said.

A diabetic, Di Stefano fought ill-health in old age and underwent a quadruple bypass with a pacemaker implanted in December 2005 after a heart attack.

Di Stefano's wife, Sara Freites, died in 2005. In May 2013 his five remaining children - a daughter died in 2012 - asked a court to rule him mentally incapable to marry a woman 50 years his junior.

"I don't care that my children are against it," Di Stefano, then 86, said of his plans to marry 36-year-old Gina Gonzalez. The marriage never happened.