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Thank You, Di Stéfano

A tribute to a legend, on and off the football pitch, that created and transcended a rivalry

Carlos Alvarez

This is a sad day for football fans. Alfredo Di Stéfano, one of the best players of all time, has died on Monday in consequence of a heart attack he suffered on Saturday. His conditions got worse and worse as the hours went on, and he didn't resist. His 88-year-old heart couldn't work anymore. All of our hearts are broken.

Do you know why you hate Real Madrid, Barça fans? Because of Di Stéfano. Do you know why Real Madrid became such a powerhouse after 1950? Because of Di Stéfano. Do you know why we love this sport so much? Because of Di Stéfano.

Di Stéfano. Don Alfredo. La Saeta Rubia. The White Arrow. Legend. You can call him everything you want, but you have to agree you have heard of him if you're a fan of football. I can guarantee you I have never seen him play. I was born when he was 68 years old. Doesn't matter. I know who he was, who he is and who he will be. Forever. Di Stéfano.

Spanish. Colombian. Argentine. Three countries he loved, he played for and he made happy.

Everything started in 1952, Real Madrid invited Colombia's Millonarios to play a friendly that celebrated Madrid's 50th club anniversary. The result? 4-2, Millonarios. A brace by Di Stéfano. The world saw right then the birth of a superstar.

FC Barcelona saw Don Alfredo's talent and quickly reached out to Argentina's River Plate, the club that had Di Stéfano's rights at the time. But Argentina wasn't having any football competition, so Alfredo went to Millonarios to continue to play. Real Madrid reached out to Millonarios to sign Di Stéfano. Both Barcelona and Madrid bought Di Stéfano at the same time. Boom. The controversy - and the rivalry - was on.

Real Madrid, the team of Spain's dictator at the time, Francisco Franco, used the government to its favor. It was decided that Di Stéfano was going to play in Spain for four years, two for Real Madrid, two for Barcelona. Outraged with the decision, Barça gave up, and Don Alfredo was going to play in white. The Superclásico was born - both in sports and politics.

Alfredo shined for Madrid, rewrote the club's history and became a legend. He played for Real from 1953 to 1964, scoring 301 goals in 374 appearances. Along with another football legend, Puskas, he formed one of the best striking pairings ever, and Madrid won five straight Champions League titles, a record that is still unbeaten to this day.

He retired from professional football at 40 years old, after playing two years for Espanyol, another Barça rival. Then, he became a successful manager, and coached Argentina giants Boca Juniors and River Plate in the 70's. He would return to Real Madrid in 1982, as a manager, and would become later Madrid's Honorary President.

Don Alfredo Di Stéfano is larger than life. He was not just a player. He literally created the best rivalry in football: Barcelona vs Real Madrid. It was because of him. Even though he was never a Blaugrana, we never hated him. Well, at least I know that I never did. And I never will. He was a classy and talented player, and even a better human being.

We'll never forget you, Don Alfredo. You'll always be our idol. Thank you for changing this sport.

Thank you for being a legend.

Thank you for being Di Stéfano.

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