Spaniards mourn Di Stefano

Alfredo di Stefano (AFP)
Alfredo di Stefano (AFP)

MADRID - Spain mourned Real Madrid legend Alfredo di Stefano on Tuesday, paying homage to one of the world's greatest footballers who inspired millions of fans during the isolation of the Franco era.

As Di Stefano's body lay in state at Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Tuesday, a day after the 88-year-old died in hospital following a heart attack, the press lavished praise on the man they called a "genius", "legend" and "complete player"

Di Stefano had gone into a coma after suffering a heart attack on Saturday at a restaurant near Real's Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

A hero of the all-conquering Real sides of the 1950s and 1960s, he died on Monday at 5:15 pm (1515 GMT) at the Gregorio Maranon hospital, Real Madrid said in a statement.

"He has left us, but his legend will live forever," Real Madrid chairman Florentino Perez told a news conference on Monday evening.

On Tuesday, the leading sports daily, Marca, left its cover almost entirely white, except for a small black-and-white photograph showing the back of a departing Di Stefano wearing his number 9 shirt, his hand waving high in the air as if saying farewell, and his dates of birth and death below.

The Madrid-based paper, which included a 40-page supplement on the striker known as the "Blonde Arrow", urged Real Madrid to withdraw the number 9 shirt in Di Stefano's "eternal honour".

- Football genius -

The director of rival sports daily AS, Alfredo Relano, said Di Stefano's exploits on foreign football fields gave Spain pride in the 1950s, during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

"In the poor, isolated, aged and introverted Spain of the second half of the 1950s, there was something to hang on to: Real Madrid, the European Cup, those remote games in Belgrade, Vienna, Brussels, Glasgow," Relano said.

"The old, strong and prestigious Europe only bowed to us if Real Madrid was there. And Di Stefano."

Leading daily El Pais declared on its front-page: "The genius of football dies" above a black-and-white picture of Di Stefano, leaping into the air with his arms raised in celebration after scoring in the semifinals of the European Cup of 1958.

"Alfredo Di Stefano was a timeless player for all times, for eternity,' the paper said.

"The man who revolutionised football," cried the front page headline of rival daily El Mundo.

In a special supplement, the paper said: "Farewell to the genius who leaves an enormous hole. Because everyone was convinced he would never leave. That could be true. He may never leave us entirely."

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