It has been said by the critics that one man cannot make a team, yet when Argentina-born Alfredo Di Stéfano flew the Atlantic to join Real Madrid in 1953, it marked the beginning of an era in which the blond centre-forward led the club to real greatness. Champions eight times in eleven seasons, Real became the most famed and most feared club side of all time, and at the height of their power between 1956 and 1960, set up what will probably remain an all-time record by taking the European Cup five times in a row.
Throughout all these triumphs Di Stéfano was superb. Controlling the game, dictating the play in midfield, scoring goals and working like a Trojan in defence, but though he was without doubt the architect of the Real successes, another man played an equally vital role behind the scenes. Without Di Stéfano, Real Madrid would never have won the European Cup, but without Don Santiago Bernabéu the club would not have risen above the 10,000 average gate, mediocre to good standard of Spanish football as it was in the 'forties.
With Spain a poor country struggling to recover from the terrors of their Civil War, and the rest of Europe locked in World War II, Don Santiago became President of Real Madrid. With a grand dream of greatness he set to work, establishing himself as the father of the club, the leader of the socios and something of a fond parent to his players. One of his first steps was to purchase a plot of land at Chamartin on which he planned to build a super stadium, but it took seven years to raise the capital for the first of the three tiers, piled one upon the other in the fashion of the bull-ring, which were to become the centre of European football.
With the Stadium at Chamartin taking shape, the club needed a top line star to draw the crowds, and the man El Presidente opted for was Di Stéfano. Bringing him to Spain was a joint venture between Real Madrid and CF Barcelona and the original plan was for the Argentinian to play for Real during 1953-54 and Barcelona the following season. Di Stéfano came and was an immediate success topping the league scorers' list, leading Real to their first championship success and setting new ground records all over Spain. With CFB becoming enamoured with their Hungarian inside-forward Ladislav Kubala, Real bought off CFB's interest for £70,000, and Di Stéfano stayed.
From this point the rise of Real Madrid is well known, for one year after Di Stéfano's first championship success in Spain, the European Cup came into being and winning the trofeo five 'times in a row, Madrid became the centre of world football. Attendances soared to an average of 80,000 per game with European Cup ties a guaranteed sell out and as money poured into the club El Presidente saw to it that it was well spent. The players were treated lavishly, the stadium completed, and determined to make the club even stronger, a continuous search for new players went on on two fronts.
On one hand, established stars were recruited from other clubs, and from other countries, and on the other a nationwide network was set up to find and develop their own youngsters. It wasn't a new approach, but no expense nor effort was spared and it took Real to the very top. In the first European Cup Final, Senor Bernabéu was enormously impressed by the talents of Raymond Kopa who all but engineered Real's defeat, and that summer Kopa joined Real for £40,000. Two years later Hungary's Ferenc Puskas joined up along with Jose Santamaria who had starred in a brilliant Uruguayan side in the 1954 World Cup. Finally, in 1959, Didi came from Brazil and when he failed, the Swede Agne Simonsson replaced him, but these were just the best known of Real's foreign legion. Dominguez (Argentina), Ramos (Uruguay), Canario (Brazil), Rial (Argentina) and Evaristo (Brazil) were also recruited from abroad at enormous expense.
Real Madrid reached their peak at the end of the 1959-60 season when a superb exhibition in the European Cup Final gave them a 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt, and their fifth European Cup. Santiago Bernabéu had fulfilled his wildest dreams for the club, but unwittingly led the Spanish game into an economic cul-de-sac from which there seemed no escape. Attempting to match the efforts of Real Madrid, the other Spanish clubs had imported foreigners, and developed new grounds, largely on borrowed money, and failing to match Real Madrid were threatened with economic disaster. At this point the Spanish F.A. intervened, re-framing the rules on foreigners, and Real Madrid set out to repeat their achievements with Spanish-born players. Since that time they have recruited only one foreigner, French international wing-half cum inside-forward Lucien Muller who joined up from Reims in 1962, and a year later, the F.A. closed the door tight with even stricter rules which now bar all foreigners save those with proof of legitimate Spanish parents or a two year residential qualification in Spain.
During the last four years Real have seen many changes, but though the players move on the spirit which made the club great remains untouched. Strict discipline from the technical staff has been blended with kindliness and understanding by the Directors and El Presidente, and the spirit, the will to win, the feeling that the club is greater than anyone has been preserved. Though dedicated to building an all-Spanish team, Real have remained champions throughout the last four years, a feat never achieved before, and twice they have reached the European Cup Final. Defeat against Benfica in 1962 was indeed a blow but nothing to compare with what the club suffered when Internazionale beat them 3-1 in Vienna last May. After that match a long smouldering row between the manager Miguel Munoz and Di Stéfano blew up, and though Santiago Bernabéu tried for weeks to smooth things out, the Argentinian moved to Espanyol.
This really did mark the end of an era, for Di Stéfano had proved the critics wrong in carrying Real Madrid almost single handed to the top, and keeping them there, for five long years of almost unbroken success. Some critics may remain convinced that one man cannot make a team, but until Di Stéfano was joined by Ferenc Puskas, he alone had carried Real, and never was this more apparent than during the 1958 European Cup Final against AC Milan in Brussels. With the Italians dominating the game, and playing brilliantly, the entire Real side was out of touch. Twice Milan were in front, and the Spaniards playing as if they knew they were going to lose, looked ready to collapse. Had it not been for Di Stéfano they would surely have lost, but Don Alfredo was magnificent. Covering every defender in turn, even goalkeeper Alonso, he spent the best part of an hour in and around his own area, challenging for the ball, turning to chase again when beaten by a pass, and when he won the ball trying without success to engineer a counter attack. With only fifteen minutes left it was Di Stéfano himself who equalised Schiaffino's scoring shot for Milan, but five minutes later Grillo put the Italians ahead again, and everyone knew it was the end. Everyone, that is, except Di Stéfano, who immediately carved out a chance for Rial with a twenty-five yard dribble and his fellow Argentinian, who did nothing else that night, scored. In extra time, Di Stéfano was shattered. He had pushed himself to the very limit of physical endurance, but when Gento hit a third goal, the Argentinian was deep in his own half, still running but hoping only for a replay. Only those who saw Di Stéfano play that night will ever understand how much one man can give. Di Stéfano was Real Madrid.
The new Real Madrid that has been taking shape for the past three or four years has been based on the search for talented young Spaniards. Knowing there will never be another Di Stéfano, with unlimited talents and unbounding energy, the blueprint calls for very good players, playing as a team. Some of the players groomed during the last two campaigns have already established themselves and blooded with Puskas and Di Stéfano, Amancio and Grosso are already stars in their own right. Amancio Amara, now twenty five, joined Real from RCD Coruna as a right-winger two years ago and cost a record fee for a Spanish player. Ten million pesetas, £30,000, and four players in part exchange, but worth every penny. Ramon Moreno Grosso cost nothing, and was a product of the Real Youth team, but unable to offer him a regular game he was loaned to Third Division Plus Ultra. Six months later Atlético Madrid asked to borrow him in a bid to stave off relegation last season, and he became an immediate success in the First Division. Then at the end of the league campaign he returned to Chamartin to sign as a professional and win the centre-forward spot from Morollon, an international from Valladolid; Evaristo (who has now returned to Brazil) and Yanko Daucik. These two, Amancio and Grosso, who is still only twenty, seem destined for greatness and, backing them, Real have un-earthed and developed a whole string of talented young players. Introduced singly last season in league matches De Felipe (twenty) centre-half, Pipi Suarez (twenty-six) inside-left, Serena (twenty-three) outside-right, Jose Martinez Sanchez "Pirri", inside left and only twenty-two, all proved themselves at the end of last season, when it was decided to field the youngsters in the Spanish F.A. Cup, while the seniors concentrated on their bid to regain the Copa Europa.
Overall there has been a tremendous clear-out since the 1960-61 campaign and though retaining the Spanish championship throughout the four years, the old guard has gone. Of the twenty-four players registered with the F.A. and eligible for league matches in 1960, only six remain, and two, Puskas and Santamaria, are clearly on the way out. Though the average age of the Real Madrid "plantilla"is now only around twenty-four, there remains the backbone of an experienced side, with Pachin (twenty-four) at left-back, Zoco a Chile World Cup veteran at left-half, and Lucien Muller (thirty) at the end of 1964 the general at right-half. Amancio, too, has established himself and though tiny for an inside forward, switched inside for the recent European Cup match with Dukla to make room on the wing for Serena and hit three goals.
It seems likely that with Puskas in the side from time to time, Amancio will remain on the wing, but when he goes, the winger will switch to inside-right to share the goal getting chores with Grosso. Inevitably, there have been times when the Real fans and admirers have been dismayed by defeats, but this is the price that had to be paid in order to give their promising youngsters the chance to prove themselves. Producing the best available team of the moment for the important games, counting for the League and European Cup, Real have almost succeeded in rebuilding, without conceding the championship to their rivals, and with their new team now almost ready to assert itself in the international arena, they are on top of the First Division with one third of the league programme completed and an impressive goal average of twenty-five goals for and only eight against.
All this has been achieved at comparatively little expense, for while Real remain almost alone amongst Spanish clubs in being free from financial worries; they have refused to follow their rivals in scouring South America for well-known players with the necessary Spanish qualifications. Their recruiting campaign has been a model, which other clubs in every country could well follow, for their new stars were all found playing for Second and Third Division clubs. Young, talented and eager to accept the chance to prove themselves with Real, they have been gleaned from Osasuna, from Granada, from Albacete, Malaga, Melilla and Arenas de Guecho. Now with confidence growing, the socios are beginning to swarm back to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, after three comparatively lean years. A new young team, top of the league. and with the old masters' proud unbeaten home record still intact through more than 120 league and European Cup battles since February, 1957, it would be a brave man who would say that Real Madrid will not prove their youngsters good enough to win the Copa Europa which Alfredo Di Stéfano once dominated.
This article originally appeared in the January 1962 edition of World Soccer Magazine. You can subscribe for a ridiculously low sum by clicking here.