LONDON (AFP) - Alex Ferguson lead the British tributes to Alfredo Di Stefano on Monday, describing the Real Madrid legend as one of the greatest players of all time.
Di Stefano died aged 88 after suffering a heart attack on Saturday and tributes immediately poured in from across the world of football, with former Manchester United manager Ferguson delivering an emotional remembrance of the striker.
Because Di Stefano, a two-time European Football of the Year in 1957 and 1959, played in the era before football was so widely televised, his brilliance has sometimes been forgotten, but Ferguson insists he deserves to be ranked alongside the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff.
“The great question that always comes up is who are the greatest players,” Ferguson told Sky Sports News.
“Obviously there is a list of great ones like (Johan) Cruyff, (Diego) Maradona and Pele and of course (Ferenc) Puskas and of course Di Stefano - I thought he was one of the greatest in my mind.
“He had a fantastic balance and poise. If you look at one of the goals he scored in the (European Cup) final against Eintracht Frankfurt it was completely what we are saying about the balance and poise, unbelievable he was.
“I was very sad to hear the news. Even at 88 it is a bit of a shock. I saw him two years ago before our Real Madrid game and he looked fine and looked full of health.”
He won five successive European Cups at Real between 1956 and 1960, scoring in all five finals – including a hat-trick in the 7-3 thrashing of Eintracht Frankfurt in front of an awe-struck crowd at Glasgow’s Hampden Park in 1960, which included a young Ferguson .
“The amazing thing about that was, being a Rangers fan, Eintracht Frankfurt had beaten Rangers in the semi-finals 6-3, 6-1 so they were gods,” Ferguson said.
“They came to Hampden Park and were annihilated by Real Madrid 7-3. I was there in the schoolboy enclosure, I was playing with Queen’s Park at the time, and it was a fantastic experience.”
The two would cross paths 23 years later when Ferguson, then boss at Aberdeen, met a Real Madrid side managed by Di Stefano in the 1983 Cup Winners’ Cup final.
Against the odds it was Ferguson’s men who won the trophy in Gothenburg and the Scot was most impressed by Di Stefano’s grace in defeat.
“My greatest memory of course is when Aberdeen beat Real Madrid,” Ferguson added.
“I was honoured to be in the same game as Real Madrid but to come up against Di Stefano was an incredible experience for me.“After the game he was very generous and he said Aberdeen had a team that money can’t buy, a soul and a family spirit.”
Di Stefano’s Real beat United in the 1957 European Cup semi-finals and Bobby Charlton, who was on the losing side in the tie, echoed Ferguson’s sentiments.
“As one of the stars of the legendary Real Madrid team, I think Alfredo was one of the best players I ever came across and an extremely intelligent footballer,” Charlton told United’s website.
“I have many fond memories of my time with Alfredo and feel privileged to be able to call him a good friend. The footballing world has lost a great player and a great man.”
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who met Di Stefano during his spell in charge at Madrid, added: “It was with immense sadness I learned of the death of Alfredo Di Stefano, a wonderful man I had the fortune to know during my time in Madrid.
“Alfredo was the best Real Madrid player in history and one of the greatest of all time. Rest in peace Alfredo.”