by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 8th 2014)
La Saeta Rubio
The world of football mourned the loss of the great Alfredo di Stéfano Laulhé who died yesterday aged 88. Disgracefully FIFA failed to observe a minute’s silence or applause for him in Belo Horizonte. Hopefully, they will realise the error of their ways and pay tribute when the first nation that he played for met the Netherlands on Wednesday evening.
La Saeta Rubio (the Blond Arrow) graced Argentina, Colombia and Spain, representing all three countries, although FIFA did not recognise the four matches that he played for Colombia. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest players of all time, but di Stéfano never graced the World Cup Finals. Only a complete fool would deny him his status as an all time great because of that.
Di Stéfano excelled for River Plate in Argentina and then Colombia’s Millonarios before being embroiled in a tug of war between Barçelona and Real Madrid that Real won. Di Stefano is the fifth highest scorer in La Liga’s history and second for Real in the top league. It took Raúl González Blanco over 200 matches more to beat his tally of 227 by one.
Real Madrid won the first five European Cups between 1956-60 Stéfano a domination of Europe’s top competition that has not and never will be matched. Di Stéfano scored in each of these finals – a hat-trick in the last – the epitome of a big-game player. His records are quite simply ridiculous, achieved in a truly great team – one of the best ever.
Astonishingly, this great team never won the treble. He won eight Liga titles, but only one Copa del Rey. There were individual awards too – plenty of them. Three Colombian league titles and two Argentinian ones added to a multicultural trophy cabinet, but there was much more than records and trophies to di Stéfano.
In 1962 while on tour with the club in South America he was kidnapped by revolutionaries led by the now famous artist Paul de Rio protesting against the government of Rómulo Betancourt Bello, which had suspended civil liberties. Di Stéfano was released unharmed after two days.
Breaking the Mould
It’s often said that great players cannot be great managers – wrong. Di Stéfano was plainly both. A year after his retirement aged 40 he landed in Elche’s dugout. Within four years he revived the fortunes of a then sleeping giant. Valencia had been a great team in the 1940s. It took thirty years and crucially the tactical nous of di Stéfano to bring success back to Mestalla. They were runners-up the following year. They lost the final of the Copa del Rey both seasons.
But before that he won the Argentine double for Boca Juniors in 1969. Back with Valencia – the club he had most success with he won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1980. The following year he won the Argentine Torneo Nacional for River Plate – his last great success. The rest was near misses and restoring Valencia to the top flight as champions of the Segunda División in 1987. His spells in charge of Real Madrid – the team he was appointed Honorary President of in 2000 – only brought one trophy the Spanish Supercup.
Nevertheless, La Saeta Rubio proved that great players can be great mangers too. The word legend is overused, but in his case it does not do him justice. RIP Don Alfredo di Stéfano Laulhé.