Alfredo Di Stefano, third left, is joined by Michel
Platini, second right, Fifa chairman, Joseph Blatter,
second left, among others to pay tribute [EPA]
 

Real Madrid has unveiled a statue of Alfredo Di Stefano in tribute to the footballing great who helped transform the Spanish club into a global force.

The 81-year-old Argentine, who played for Madrid from 1953-64, was joined at the ceremony by Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Uefa chief Michel Platini.

Former players Eusebio and Just Fontaine also attended the unveiling of the bronze and stone statue of Di Stefano celebrating after scoring a goal at Madrid's Valdebebas training ground.

"This is a very emotional day for me. I'm not used to this,'' Di Stefano said.

"I'm laughing so I don't cry.''

Platini presented Di Stefano with the UEFA President's Award in honour of services rendered to the sport.

"You're name is written in gold letters in the history of our sport, where there will always be a special place reserved for you,'' Platini said.

With an estimated 890 goals in a 22-year career, the "Blond Arrow'' made an impact from his first start as a 17-year-old at Argentine club River Plate.

River won two league titles with Di Stefano, who is widely seen as the sport's first "total'' player. He then moved to Millonarios, where he won four Colombian league titles.

But Di Stefano was at his best at Madrid, charging forward from the defence one day and using a scorer's touch from inside the box the next, and helping to transform the club into a Spanish and European force.

"You brought a new philosophy to the football field,'' Blatter said.

Bobby Charlton called Di Stefano his "greatest hero.''

"As a midfield player, I learned a lot from him,'' the Manchester United great said in a video montage presented at the ceremony.

"I think he was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, football player ever.''

Playing with greats such as Ferenc Puskas at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, Madrid won a record five straight European Cups between 1956 and '60.

The team also won eight league titles and the first World Club Cup in 1960.

'Beautiful moments'

Di Stefano's hat trick in the 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park in 1960 is widely considered one of the greatest European Cup finals.

"Football brought me so many beautiful moments. It built my life,'' said Di Stefano, a two-time European Player of the Year who scored 418 goals in 510 games for Madrid.

In 1963, Di Stefano was held captive during Madrid's tour of Venezuela.

He was taken at gunpoint from his hotel room by the publicity-seeking National Liberation Army Front and released unhurt two days later.

A Copa America victory with Argentina in 1947 was his only international accolade and Di Stefano never played at the World Cup.

After four appearances for Colombia, which were never recognized by Fifa, he eventually gained Spanish citizenship and scored 23 times in 31 games for Spain.

Di Stefano played out his final seasons at Espanyol before retiring in 1966 at the age of 40.

He coached Boca Juniors, River, Real Madrid and Valencia before becoming honorary president at Madrid.

Source: Agencies