Alfredo Di Stéfano: the “father” of Maradona, Messi and total football

The deployment of the Argentine Di Stéfano who conquered Madrid and, later, the world.

That heartless afternoon of 1946, heartless because of the cold, the wind that came from the river sneaked into the Monumental through the hole left by the “horseshoe”. They would play River against Huracán and the stadium was full. The Tano Renato Cesarini – who directed the training with silk suits, moccasin shoes and Italian shirts, all tailored – had left the technical direction to go to direct Italy and Don Carlos Peucelle -unforgettable teacher- would take charge of the River of ” Machine”.

At the minute of play, a blond player, with a prodigious physique and with the speed of an athlete, unattainable for his occasional markers Ramos, Ferreyra and Vaghi who he was passing as posts playing long from his own field, about 70 meters, arrived at the area, he waited for goalkeeper Soriano to come out –I don’t remember why Amadeo didn’t play– and nailed it at an angle. Hurricane 1-River 0 (it would finish 1-3). While the fans of the Globe celebrated it in the popular high, Don Antonio Liberti, president of River, ecstatic, could not help but exclaim: “Who is that phenomenon…? And he excitedly asked his friend and assistant who was always sitting next to him: “Rofranito, find out about the blond, I want him in River next year…”.

Nicolas Rofrano –I think he had been a player up to 20 years ago- responded in astonishment: “Don Antonio, that boy is ours, his name is Alfredo DiStefano, don’t you remember that the father talked to you a couple of years ago so that we could try it? Well, we tried it, he stayed and even played, you must have forgotten, but we had to lend it to Huracán… ”.

“And why did we lend it to Huracán, look what a piece of player,” an enraged Liberti said out loud.

—And…Don Antonio look who’s playing…: Baez, Pedernera, Labruna and Charro Moreno is getting in shape ready to grab the First…what do you want us to do…?

“One year and you return to River, right?” asked Don Antonio fearfully.

—We don’t know president, we gave Huracán the purchase option for 80,000 pesos…-

“Everyone’s crazy in this club, what’s wrong with them?” Liberti yelled.

Cover of El Gráfico, together with his son Alfredito, in Spain, year 1963.

And the next day he personally went to see Lieutenant Colonel Tomas Adolfo Ducó – manager of the 1943 Revolution that brought about the overthrow of General Pedro Pablo Ramírez, putting an end to the “Infamous Decade” – but above all, president of Huracán. And after a “kind” negotiation – he took charge of Alfredo’s salary – he got him to return to River. Which in turn meant that Adolfo Pedernera went to Atlanta in 1947 for 140,000 pesos, a record figure.

This note is not intended to be a biography of Alfredo Di Stéfano but to allow sweet flashes to come to our memory. Moderately manage to tell some aspects of the man who without intending to and without fanfare changed world football, marked a tactical revolution, generated what was known as “total football”. It will not be necessary to remember that FIFA considered him the number one player in the world, above Pelé and Cruyff (2 Golden Balls, 1957 and 1959, and 1 Super Ballon d’Or, 1989). By the way, the appearance of Diego changed the places but Alfredo never dropped out of the top five, not even with the blessed advent of Lio Messi, a prodigy already perpetuated. In other words, among the best 5 players in the world of the last 60 years, there are always –and there will be, why not?– 3 Argentines: Alfredo, Diego and Messi, according to chronological order.

Cardales Club Museum - Alfredo Di Stéfano
The Di Yorio family in their museum bar in Los Cardales guard several Di Stéfano memorabilia. The Argentine star began in that town (Luciano Gonzalez/)

I remember it with emotion. The profession allowed me to meet him, listen to him and share hours of immense historical value. My colleagues Juvenal -Julio César Pasquato who had started in the 50’s in Roberto Neuberger’s historic River magazine, who baptized Di Stéfano as “La Saeta Rubia” in the title of a column in El Gráfico- was the closest of our newsroom although no one admired him and taught us to value him as much as the endearing Enrique Macaya Márquez. But other teachers also knew him well, also colleagues from El Gráfico, with whose teachings God privileged me: Osvaldo Ardizzone, Emilio Lafferranderie (El Veco), Hector Onesime –a brother-, José María Otero, who went to settle in Madrid almost 50 years and was always close to Alfredo from then until July 7, 2014, when he left us at 88 years old. Oterito, a man of great Buenos Aires, soccer and tango culture, was one of those authorized to sit at the exclusive table that Real Madrid had assigned to Alfredo in his restaurant and to which only his guests could sit. He was the table of the greatest player of the club and also Honorary President since the year 2000.

During an interview with Maradona in 1980. Diego’s soccer “father”, both enjoyed the title “best player in the world” in his time

During his time as champion technical director with Boca (1969) or with River (1981), it was when we could enjoy him the most in those Monday lunches at La Raya on Pavón street when Don Carlos Vinagre, the owner and founder, became incomparable host of a table with Alfredo, Pipo Rossi, Adolfo Pedernera, Sanchez Lage, Pepe Peña and other soccer friends who alternated. An obligatory appointment that later Tito Codina continued and today continues his son Claudio in La Raya de Plaza San Martín. A true nocturnal athenaeum on soccer and that in Alfredo’s time began at 1 pm and could last until 9 pm… How beautiful were those times of learning to listen and then being able to count. And of those meetings between friends who lived football as an exclusive passion.

To think that one of those diners -South American Champion in Ecuador 47′ with Argentina– was the one who unexpectedly went to Colombia due to the players’ strike of 1949 and shocked that country where more than 200 Argentine professionals -mostly cracks- went to land. looking for work, even though FIFA did not recognize that league, the DiMayor. By the time the conflict was resolved, Millonarios was hired from several European countries. Everyone wanted to see the team where this phenomenon called Di Stefano played, someone who took care of the near post in a corner of the opponents, marked the rivals when they attacked his team and if he captured the ball he touched quickly and went to look for… Those balls to Gento -the left wing- from 40 meters so that he could control it, reach the bottom, throw the cross and Alfredo, the initiator of the play in his own area, arrived to score the goal…

Alfredo was decorated with the Gold Medal of the Community of Madrid.  A lifetime of recognition
Alfredo was decorated with the Gold Medal of the Community of Madrid. A lifetime of recognition

Great moments emerge from those stories. It is that Alfredo was born in Barracas, -July 4, 1926- in Salum street and like his father -Italian origin from Capri- who sold potatoes had a conflict with some heavy brokers from the Abasto Market, they threatened him and he had what to go He bought a house in Flores, on Carabobo street, but the threats did not stop. It was thus that he bought an 8-hectare field in Los Cardales, at that time a small town of 1,000 inhabitants. From there he continued to sell his potatoes and formed a kind of Paperos Commission of the Province of Buenos Aires. His sons -very fans of River- played soccer. And both did very well: Alfredo – “El Alemán” – for his light eyes, his round face, the dimple in his chin and a rebellious blond lock, and Tulio. who also played phenomenon but had to leave due to a meniscus problem. Don Alfredo, the father always encouraged his boys to play and that is how he signed them up for the Unión Progresista de Los Cardales club, founded in 1928. Today in the Bar Di Yorio of the brothers Alberto and Alfredo Di Yorio there is an exclusive craft museum dedicated to the memory of Alfredo Di Stéfano Well, Alberto, the oldest of the Di Yorio family, was always in contact with Alfredo. And in the phenomenal museum in Madrid there is a gigantograph showing Tulio and Alfredo –the Di Stéfano brothers- a unique piece donated by Alberto Di Yorio. The bar, which is a relic only sustained by love, is in front of the plaza on Calle Rivadavia 16 and is the oldest business in Los Cardales, it is 115 years old. Once at his table, Alfredo confessed his adolescent dreams without imagining, perhaps, that he would be what Diego was yesterday and today is Messi, number one in world soccer.

I want to go back to what I remember hearing from Alfredo himself as a young chronicler… It was more or less like this: the Di Stéfano farm was on Route 4, which joins the Luján River with what was then Route 9 and today is the Pan American. And the 5 kilometers between the house and the Progresista field, the Di Stéfanos did it by jogging as a warm-up behind the sulky that his father was driving. It was not all: before the cones were used for training, Alfredo’s father made his children turn the trees in the field into such cones. And so he trained them physically. The youngest of the Di Yorio –Alfredo- reminds me that the Progresista field had electricity because the Miter railway that linked Victoria with Capilla del Señor had provided electricity throughout the area and that allowed games to be played at night.

The farewell to Di Stéfano with the Argentine shirt (he played two World Cups)
The farewell to Di Stéfano with the Argentine shirt (he played two World Cups)

Alfredo also told us once that after tiring tours since Millionaires were hired from all over Europe to see him and to top it off traveling by plane with the panic that he had them, he returned to Buenos Aires in 1952 in search of calm, Here, He already lived in Carabobo at 500 where his sister Norma lived, who once let me pass so that I could see the house of that beloved idol while I waited for him “but without taking photos.” I saw a chair, an armchair, a space and I thought “Alfredo sits here, number one…”. And my rookie eyes lit up. In that very brief interview, Alfredo only told me for El Gráfico that he had to travel to Spain because a large offer from Barcelona was concrete. It had already transpired that Ladislao Kubala, his most emblematic player, who also played as a 9, suffered from tuberculosis and Barsa only saw Di Stéfano as his replacement.

Catalan leaders arrived in Buenos Aires and advanced River two million pesetas, something like 45,000 dollars for half the pass. The other half was from Millionaires. Madrid also came to see Liberti at the same time that another group from Madrid’s board of directors went to Colombia to negotiate with Alfonso Senior, the president of Millonarios. And his offer was double: $180,000. In the middle was Alfredo already training in Barcelona because it seemed that everything was arranged. Nothing more opposite to reality: Barça and Madrid entered into a severe conflict and it would be FIFA who would settle it. However, it was not necessary because Alfredo narrated to us with that anxious and tormented Spanish that mixed the slang from Barracas, some twists from Buenos Aires and the Castilian from Madrid, something that changed his destiny. The following happened: one afternoon after training with Barcelona, ​​two very serious men approached him. They wore dark suits, covered their bodies with long coats with raised lapels, and both covered their heads with period hats.

“Mr. Di Stéfano?”


—You are going to have to accompany us, take all the things you have, all…-

“What’s going on, where are we going?” Alfredo asked.

—Sir, you are in the best hands, don’t worry, let’s go to Madrid.-

Upon arriving in the Spanish capital, after being treated with courtesy, admiration and cordiality, they told him: “Sir, before going to the hotel we must go through the headquarters of the Real Madrid Football Club”.

In Spain, as an advertising model for women’s stockings. She was chosen for “her perfect legs of hers”

Alfredo read a contract for much more money than the one promised by Barcelona but it was not this that led him to sign but rather a suggestion “sweetly” verbalized by his hosts: “Once you sign,” they told him, “you have no idea, sir. Tell Stéfano how happy our Generalissimo will feel; he asked us so much to convince him… ”.

From 1953 to 1964 he played for Real Madrid, a club that scored 308 goals in 396 official matches. He also won 5 European Cups, 1 Intercontinental (1960), 8 League championships (1954-55-57-58-61-62 -63 and 64) plus 1 Copa España del Generalissimo in 62 ′.

His figure was excluding, a celebrity respected in the world of football for his unwavering display; that new order that without realizing it was generating a tactical revolution in world football: no fixed positions; everyone goes up, everyone goes down, everyone surprises, everyone overflows, everyone relieves, everyone marks, everyone breaks lines; everything is rehearsable and everything is perfectible…. It was so that Rinus Michels, after leaving football playing for Ajax in the Netherlands, studied it for a full year, filmed it with the technological tools of the time, recorded sprints of 35 meters at 28 km of speed and in certain matches an average of 13.5 km traveled during the 90 minutes of play. It was after that amazing aspect of physical delivery that Michels talked with him for many hours and conveyed the revolutionary idea of ​​total football; that creation of Alfredo and, in his own way, Michels became the ideologue and creator of that modern football-making machine that was Ajax in 65′, prolonged in “A Clockwork Orange” in 74′ of which Cruyff was its maximum exponent. That way of playing was also adopted by Barcelona of the Dutch and continues in force in the Netherlands team that will play the World Cup in Qatar…

The network and Di Stéfano, two old acquaintances.  He is still among the top five players in the world in the FIFA ranking
The network and Di Stéfano, two old acquaintances. He is still among the top five players in the world in the FIFA ranking

What beautiful times those. To think that as budding journalists we used to go with our dear friend Julio Lagos, our dear Gordo García Blanco and some other recent graduate colleague —like us— to the Novedades movie theater at 344 Florida Street to see Alfredo in action once a week. They spent a minute and a half on the news produced by a Spanish company called NoDo. Then we put up with another hour of cartoons to see Madrid’s striker again: Raymond Kopa (French), Héctor Rial (former San Lorenzo whom Alfredo baptized “El Nene”), Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskas (unforgettable Hungarian, world sub-champion of 54′) and Paco Gento (Spanish) who had the Uruguayan as center half – a great friend of Alfredo – José Pepe Santamaría. My God, what they played…

His figure was so mythical that 14 books and 11 films were dedicated to him. In addition, he was even an advertising model dressed in Madrid player clothes and wearing women’s socks from a new brand, given the perfection of his legs… He was in the Spanish team for the 62nd World Cup in Chile, but did not play due to injury. Surely the most emblematic biography was narrated by Alfredo himself and was written by the journalists Enrique Ortega and Alfredo Relaño, director of As. The work is called “Gracias Vieja” and is a tribute to his mother: Doña Eulalia Laulhé Gilmont, of a French father and Irish mother. His life was prodigious and football was always and until the end a faithful, beautiful and passionate love… Alfredo was also so famous that what happened to him in 1963 and in Caracas happened to Fangio in 1958 in La Havana: was kidnapped by the FALN revolutionary command (Armed Forces of National Liberation of Venezuela) during a Champions Cup. It was the most effective way for all the media in the world to reflect it and make visible the existence of an insurgent group against the dictator Pérez Giméenez. But the admiration and respect were so enormous that, as with Fangio, his captors “returned” him safe and sound within 48 hours, apologizing and requiring only autographs and photographs as ransom.

Cardales Club Museum - Alfredo Di Stéfano
The jackets of Alfredo that are stored in the museum bar of Los Cardales by the Di Yorio brothers (Luciano Gonzalez/)

And after retiring in 1966 as the greatest figure in world football at Espanyol in Barcelona, ​​he devoted himself to coaching and was successful like everything else he undertook: he was champion with Boca (National and Copa Argentina 69′), with Valencia the League (71′) and Cup Winners’ Cup (80′); with River (81′), with Madrid -where he was from 82′ to 84′ and from 90′ to 91′- the Super Cup (90′), in addition to having led Sporting de Portugal, Rayo Vallecano and Castellón, more for passion than obligation…

I remember and dream… I return to the Novedades cinema with Julito Lagos and Gordo Garcia Blanco to see a minute of Alfredo in action. I hear him in the changing rooms of Boca or River grunting despite winning. I enter his father’s house on Carabobo street and review the photos hanging on clean walls like perfect paintings. I keep hearing it at the end of the table at the old Raya de Pavón and I toast with that noble and abundant red wine. I see him in the mid-’60s from a box at the Bernabeu in the throes of his crunching bones. I hear Cruyff and Rinus Michels saying, “We owe our style to this phenomenon”. I enter FIFA in Zurich to glimpse him with his stamp of perpetual crack in the Hall of Fame with the badge that says: “Best Player in the World of the 20th Century”. And sitting at a table in the Di Yorio’s bar, in Los Cardales, I see Diego hugging him and Leo anticipating his dream of world champion.

We will never forget Master…

File, Archive: Maximilian Roldan

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