Real Madrid great Alfredo Di Stéfano is in a coma in the hospital after suffering a heart attack on Saturday. The 88-year-old was hospitalized after he fell ill close to Real’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu and is in critical condition.
The Argentine-Spanish former player and coach – he had the distinction of representing both Argentina and Spain – has suffered from ill health in recent years. In 2005 he underwent heart surgery and was fitted with a pacemaker. The Gregorio Maranon hospital, where Di Stéfano was taken to, released a statement in which it said he was “under sedation” after suffering a “cardiac arrest”. The statement also read that Di Stéfano’s condition remains serious. A further update is expected on Sunday.
Real, along with many soccer experts, describe Di Stéfano as the greatest of all time. He enjoyed an 11-year glittering career at the club from 1953-1964 when he helped turn the Spanish giants into one of the best sides in the world as part of a formidable attacking side. Di Stéfano is currently the second highest scorer in Real history, behind Raúl, with 307 goals to his name. During his time at Real he won five European Cups (now called the Champions League) in a row and scored in each final between 1956 and 1960. At domestic level he won eight Spanish league titles and was also voted European player of the year twice – once in 1957 and again in 1959.
Di Stéfano, who left Real in 1964 at the age of 38, is unusual in that he played for three different countries at international level. Having won six caps for his native Argentina, he appeared for times for Colombia when he had a spell there. However, those caps are not officially recognized by FIFA.
After opting to play for Spain in 1954, FIFA said he could not but reversed its decision in 1957 once he had citizenship. Di Stéfano went on to win 31 caps for his adopted country and scored 23 goals. However, he never played in the World Cup, joining a select number of other soccer greats, such as George Best.
Di Stéfano also won four league titles in Colombia and two in Argentina. He subsequently went into management and led bitter rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate two league titles in Argentina. He also won the Spanish title and Copa del Rey with Valencia. Other clubs on his résumé include Sporting, Rayo Vallecano and Castellon. He finally took over at Real in 1982, where he led the club to the runners-up spot in five competitions over two years. Di Stéfano then made a comeback for five months in 1990 and capped it off with a Spanish Super Cup victory over Barcelona.
It may come as no surprise to many that Di Stéfano has suffered a heart attack due to his recent history of ill health. While the world anxiously waits to hear about his progress, one thing is for sure: the Real great has cemented his place in the pantheon of soccer greats. Even in Argentina, many claim that Di Stéfano was a better player than Diego Maradona, who is widely-regarded as the greatest, particularly of the modern era.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd