MADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid legend Alfredo di Stefano, one of the greatest footballers in history, is in a coma in a Spanish hospital after suffering a heart attack Saturday, officials said.
Rescuers battled for nearly 20 minutes to revive the 88-year-old after his heart and breathing stopped while he was eating with his family near the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in central Madrid.
"He had suffered a cardiorespiratory arrest," a source at Madrid Emergency Services told AFP.
"The emergency services began resuscitation and after 18 minutes managed to get him out of the arrest and he was taken in a serious condition to the Gregorio Maranon hospital."
The Argentina-born forward was lying in a coma in the cardiac ward of the hospital, a hospital spokesman said.
"His status is that he is in a coma and we are keeping an eye on his progress," he told AFP.
The hospital later issued a written medical report saying Di Stefano was sedated and breathing with the help of a machine.
It described his condition as "serious but stable".
Leading newspaper El Pais said Di Stefano had been eating with his family when he felt ill and sat down in his wheelchair. By the time an ambulance arrived he was in cardiorespiratory arrest.
Real Madrid said in a brief statement on their website that club president Florentino Perez had visited Di Stefano in hospital.
Di Stefano had been hospitalised seven times for similar episodes, and underwent emergency quadruple heart by-pass surgery after suffering a major heart attack in 2005.
He is one of Real Madrid's most celebrated players, having represented the club for 11 seasons between 1953 and 1964, winning five European Cups. He now holds the title of honorary club president.
He was born in Buenos Aires and began his professional career with hometown club River Plate in 1945 before leaving for Colombian outfit Millonarios four years later after the Argentine league ground to a halt following a pay strike.
Di Stefano won the Colombian title in his first season before adding the 1951 and 1952 titles to his list of honours but it was his individual displays that attracted the attention of a host of big-name European suitors.
It was ultimately Real Madrid who won the race for Di Stefano's signature after a long, complicated transfer wrangle with bitter rivals Barcelona.
Di Stefano immediately flourished in the Spanish capital as he helped Real Madrid end a 21-year wait for the league title in his first season before collecting a further seven league crowns during his time at the club.
However, it was on the European stage that Di Stefano truly cemented his status as one of the game's greats, helping Real win the first five editions of the European Cup between 1956 and 1960, a record that stands to this day.
He was also a two-time European Football of the Year in 1957 and 1959, but despite all the accolades a World Cup finals appearance was to elude him.
Argentina didn't participate at either the 1950 or 1954 finals and having attained Spanish citizenship in 1956 Di Stefano then missed out on the 1958 finals as Spain failed to qualify.
La Roja reached the 1962 tournament in Chile but injury prevented Di Stefano, then aged 35, from taking part despite travelling with the team.
He would finish his playing days at Espanyol in 1966 and turned his focus to coaching, starting out with modest Spanish side Elche the following year prior to spells at Boca Juniors, Valencia, River Plate and Real Madrid among others before calling time on his managerial career in 1991.
The news of his hospitalisation quickly reached Brazil, where Argentina beat Belgium 1-0 in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.
"They told me about it in the changing room," said former Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain, who scored Argentina's goal.
"It's a tragedy, because of everything that he represents. He was always close to me at Real Madrid. I have lots of respect for him and I'm very sad to hear that. I hope he'll recover."