How Manchester United nearly signed Real Madrid’s greatest ever player Alfredo Di Stefano

by Sam Peoples

One of football’s greatest players Alfredo Di Stefano sadly passed away yesterday at the age of 88.

The ex-Real Madrid striker spent 11 years at the Santiago Bernabeu where he helped Madrid establish early dominance in the European Cup with five consecutive titles between 1955-60.

Known as “the Blond Arrow”, Di Stefano was in a class of his own on the pitch and in the fallout of the Munich Air Disaster, the measure of his class off it was shown in his willingness to leave reigning European champions Madrid in order to help rebuild United.

Here is an extract from an excellent piece on The Independent looking into how Real Madrid helped United rebuild after the Munich Air Disaster of 1958.

“United lost their semi-final to Milan three months after the crash but Milan were beaten 3-2 by Real Madrid in the final. Bernabeu, dedicated the win to his fallen friends from Manchester and even offered United the trophy, though it was turned down.

If that offer was purely symbolic there were material pledges too, most significantly the offer to loan United the world’s finest footballer, Alfredo di Stefano, “the Blond Arrow”, for the 1958-59 season. “Bernabeu went to see Di Stefano about this,” Ludden said. “He was willing to go until the end of the season, United paying half his wages and Madrid the other half. But the Football Association blocked it as he would be taking the place of a potential British player.”

With 376 goals in 524 appearances, his passing has been mourned across all of the footballing world as well as close to home from some of United’s most famous ambassadors.

Sir Alex Ferguson: “In the semi-final, Eintracht Frankfurt beat Rangers and we looked upon Eintracht as almost certain to win the 1960 European Cup – but Real Madrid were a special team.

“I had the pleasure as a young man of being influenced by the great Real Madrid and Di Stefano. His head was up all the time. He was such a fantastic footballer.

“For Real Madrid, it is a terrible loss because his presence was always there.”

Sir Bobby Charlton: “I was deeply saddened to hear the news of Alfredo Di Stefano’s passingAs 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.

“He was somebody I really respected, having watched him from the stands at the Bernabeu and then played against him. 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.

“I’d like to send my condolences on behalf of everybody at Manchester United to his family and our friends at Real Madrid.”

Di Stefano’s passing comes less than 48 hours before his native Argentina face Holland in the World Cup semi-final and both sides will likely wear black armbands in memory of one of football’s greatest ever players.

Image: Twitter/ITV

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