Move over Messi, move over Maradona, the Argentine soccer hero of all time is Alfredo Di Stefano.
The ‘Blond Arrow,’ as he was nicknamed, is regarded as one of the greatest soccer players not only in Argentina, but in Spain.
He helped the Spanish club team, Real Madrid, win eight league titles in the 1950s through the early 60s.
Di Stefano died on Monday at 88 years old.
“One of things that made him remarkable was his elegance, his lightness of touch, his ability to play all over the pitch,” said soccer reporter Marcela Mora y Araujo. Mora y Araujo interviewed Di Stefano on several occasions. "He’s known as the first modern footballer or the first total footballer because he could play every position.”
He also bridged what Mora y Araujo calls the “us versus them” mentality in football.
“Football always makes us want to be us or them. In Argentina, it’s Boca or River, and, in the world, it’s nationalities. Di Stefano bridged all of that. Although he grew up in the [Buenos Aires] neighborhood of Boca, he played for River.”
However, Di Stefano is perhaps most famous for his time playing in Spain for the Spanish club Real Madrid. He was discovered by Real Madrid’s president, Santiago Bernabéu, when Di Stefano, who was playing for the Colombian club Millonarios in Bogotá, played against Madrid in a friendly match.
“Santiago Bernabéu saw [Di Stefano] play and said, ‘I want him,’” said Mora y Araujo.
Di Stefano became a legend with Real Madrid scoring 216 goals in 282 league games during the course of his nearly decade-long career playing with the club.
The Blond Arrow went on to become a Spanish citizen. But unlike the negative opinions Argentines have about Lionel Messi, who also left Argentina to play in Spain, Di Stefano is heralded as a football hero in his native country.
“I don’t know if stigma is the right word to use for many years people were claiming that Messi wasn’t Argentine enough and didn’t sing the national anthem, Di Stefano actually took on Spanish nationality and represented Spain internationally, so, in a sense, they could be more of a rebuttal to his Argentinianess,” said Mora y Araujo.
But there isn’t, he says. For Argentines, Di Stefano is a hero. Though for Di Stefano himself, it might’ve been a bit more complicated.
“He once said to me, ‘Home is a little bit for where one is born and a lot from where one is fed,’” said Mora y Araujo
He recognized Spain as the home he’d made and the country that had nurtured him and given him his career. But according to Mora y Araujo, he never lost his Argentine roots.
“Into his 80s, he spoke completely like he had never moved away from that Boca neighborhood, with the exact tones of that neighborhood, the slang of his generation. He would burst into tango. And you wouldn’t know from talking to him that he lived almost half of his adult life in another country,” said Mora y Araujo.