The Transfer That Defined An Era: Real Madrid And Alfredo Di Stefano

Why yes the blond arrow is posing with the FIVE European Cups he helped Real Madrid Collect.via www.football-history.net

If there's one player that dominates the Real Madrid history books, it's Alfredo Di Stefano: who knows if Real Madrid would have gone on a run of five consecutive European Cups (or have even won one!) had it not been for the Blond Arrow. But if you're a fan of FC Barcelona, that's not how you remember him--for culés, he's the one that got away, and perhaps the one that prevented Barcelona from winning those championships.  

But that's a fistful of "what ifs." What actually did happen is one of the most interesting, confusing and confounding transfers the football world has ever seen. To this day, I don't think there exists a transfer story that could stand up to what happened to bring Alfredo Di Stefano to Madrid.

Life might have been different in the capital--much different--had he completed the move to bitter rival, FC Barcelona, which was his original destination. But to get to the transfer in question, we first need to know a little bit about the Saeta Rubia and where he came from.

Alfredo Stefano Di Stephano Laulhe (boy, that's a mouth full) was born on the 4th of July in 1926 to Italian immigrant parents from Capri in Barracas, Buenos Aires. He began his career as a footballer at the age of 17 for River Plate in 1943, and played for three seasons before being loaned out to Atletico Huracán. His stay would be short, as he would return to River Plate for the 1947 season.

In 1949 Argentina would suffer through a football strike, so to continue playing he had to make the switch to Columbian side Millonarios of Bogotá. In the first 12 years of his career he would win six league titles, and score 100 goals in 102- plus appearances. Yet it would be his transfer to Spain that would provide all the controversy. You almost need one of those fancy flow charts to keep up with everything that went down.

Ramon Trias Fargas was given the task of bringing the Saeta Rubia to Catalan side FC Barcelona. Fargas was not only a lawyer whose expertise was in commercial law, but he was also the son of a share holder for Di Stefano's current club Millionarios. The story goes, as told by Fargas anyways, that Barcelona's own management got in the way, and tossed a wrench into the works of the transfer. This was because FCB's President Marti Carreto decided to bring in Chief Scout Josep Samitier.

If there weren't enough cooks in the kitchen already, Samitier brought in his friend Columbian Joan Busquets to  speed up talks with Millionarios. Now it should be mentioned that Busquets was one of the directors for Santa Fe--a rival of Millionarios--so you can imagine he wasn't really trying to help the deal along, so much as trying to sabotage it. Busquets basically put bullying tactics to work.

He issued a take or leave it ultimatum to Millionarios to take the modest offer for Di Stefano, who organized his defection from Columbia when (of course) Millionarios turned down the strong arm tactics (even though Di Stefano owed the club money). Also, keep in mind that he was only on loan to them, and River Plate actually owned the rights to Di Stefano. They would have accepted the transfer deal only if Millionarios came through--and that wasn't going to happen.

Not only was this whole situation breaking down, but so were the negations for the actual transfer fee. Carreto had told Fargas several times that he would accept whatever transfer sum was needed to secure Di Stefano, but they kept being turned down, and Fargas, always one to pass the buck, blamed FC Barcelona's directors, who supposedly gave him $20,000. Carreto, on the other hand, would only accept 10 grand and whatever debts the player had accumulated.

Makes your head spin, doesn't it? Oh but we're far from done, my friends.

Di Stefano went ahead in 1953 and signed with Barcelona. FIFA, who didn't know that he had left Millionarios without permission, signed off on the transfer from River Plate to FC Barcelona. Enter the Spanish Football Federation, who decided not to recognize the transfer. According to the Spanish Football Federation, both clubs--Millionarios and River Plate--needed to be in agreement and give their consent for the transfer. Because of complaints, FIFA tossed it into the Spanish Football Federation's lap and said "You deal with it!" (well most likely not those words, but hey it's FIFA--use your imagination).

It was May of 1953 when Di Stefano arrived in Spain to wrap up his transfer to Barcelona. But somewhere during talks with the Federation, Real Madrid Director Santiago Bernabeu--playing off of the in-fighting of Barcelona management--would convince Alfredo to sign with Madrid. While talks continued between both Spanish clubs, the Federation also passed a no-foreign-players ban. 

It was announced on May 15, 1953 that the Federation would allow Di Stefano to play in la Liga on the condition that he would only stay for four years and had to split his time in the league between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. As you can imagine this didn't sit well with Barca supporters or the rest of Barcelona's management. Correto stepped down a week later (could you imagine that happening now? Say Messi spending two years at Barca and then two at Real Madrid? Didn't think soo..).

Interestingly, the reasons Barcelona had for letting Di Stefano stay at Madrid are to this day disputed by both clubs. 

 

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