Exclusive interview with |Alfredo Di Stefano at Real Madrid Veteran’s club, Bernabeu Stadium, Madrid.
You were very well known for your extraordinary stamina – do you think that your days of working on a farm was responsible of this?
I am not sure if that was the main source of my energy, I would say that I got it from my phenomenal parents. It can come from a healthy life, of course. I worked on my family’s farm until I was 17 years old.
When I was a child I only played football in the streets, with friends and in amateur championships. Then I went to River Plate and my career began. They wanted to sign me for a professional club before I signed for River but I didn't want to as I enjoyed playing in the streets more. Then I decided to go for a trial with River and they accepted me.
I was really thin back then, only 58kg when I was 20. Then I put on weight. My diet was based mainly on pasta, I loved spaghetti. We didn't know it was so good back then but it is proved now that it’s basic in the diet of a sportsman. I used to eat polenta too. Potatoes were the only thing we cultivated in our farm back then. I was working hard with my family to cultivate them. My father taught me that the son of the boss was the first one who had to help.
Who was your idol when you were a child?
Arsenio Erico, a Paraguayan player. He was a striker for Independiente in Buenos Aires. He was an artist and there is no player nowadays you can compare him with. He was a great player and a great man.
In 1938 a cigarette brand called ‘43’ was offering a car as a prize for the player who could score 43 goals in the season. With two games left Arsenio reached that number so he purposely missed goals to win the prize ... but his only intention was to sell the car to share the money between his team-mates. He was a phenomenon. I never played with him as he was finishing his career when I started mine.
Who is the player you have most enjoyed watching during the last number of years?
You will have to forgive me but I always answer the same … you have 30 players for every position nowadays and I am not going to name just one to leave another one out. If you want, I can give you five names: Muñoz, Moreno, Pedernera, Labruna, Loustau.
They were know as La Máquina(The Machine) in River Plate back in the early 1940s. La Máquina is often considered as the
predecessor of Holland's total football because of their attractive, offensive playing style.
You played in two of the world’s greatest derby matches. Which derby is more intense, the “classico” Madrid vs Barcelona, or the “superclassico” River vs Boca?
River vs Boca. Both teams were from the same town. One of them was known as ‘Los Millionaires’ because they moved to a better place. The other was founded on May 25, 1901, close to the La Boca neighbourhood which was later home to Boca Juniors, founded in April 1905 – so the first team in the town was River but they moved to the north side of the city.
My father was born in front of La Bombonera (literally “chocolate box”) Stadium (home of Boca Juniors). When I was eight years old I used to go see them training with my father.
I remember I first met a player called Varallo during the 1994 World Cup. I was attending a FIFA ceremony at a hotel where I was going to receive an award when I heard somebody saying his name.
I looked for him at the hotel and when I met him I told him I had seen him playing for Boca and he asked me how it could be possible with him being 17 years older than me.
Then I told him I used to see him playing and training with Tenorio, Benitez Caceres, Evaristo and the rest of the squad of Boca in the 1930s. I was a real fan, I've seen and supported football since I was a child, I spent most of my free time watching the players training, playing and dreaming about football.
You’ve won five European cups in a row with Real Madrid and played in some outstanding matches…what is the most memorable match you have ever played in?
A superclasico, River vs Boca at the stadium Monumental, Buenos Aires. I had to play 15 minutes as a goalkeeper because we didn't have substitutions back then. We were winning 2-1 and I didn't concede any goals when I was in goal, they were just trying to score from so
far that they failed in their attempts. When the goalkeeper had recovered I went back to play in my natural position, I scored one goal to help us win the match that day but I will certainly not forget my minutes as a goalkeeper.
Futsal is very popular here in Spain. What do you think about Futsal as a way to develop technical skills and quick minds for children and young players?
Futsal (indoor football) is definitely a great way to develop technical skills and quick minds.
I used to play indoor in Argentina when I was a teenager. When I was a child we had to play in the streets and we had to stop every time a car, a bicycle, or a horse was passing.
Football learning, though, also comes through your eyes and I was lucky because I had the chance to see so many great players during training and football games in my childhood.
What is the best piece of advice you were given from a coach or a senior player when you were a young player?
Kill or be killed! No, I am just joking ... My team-mate just wanted to warn me that sometimes a bad tackle can be the finish of a promising career in football so you need to be smart in the field, respect your opponents and play fair. The best advice I received is to be alert and try to understand the game.
Who was the most difficult opponent you have ever faced?
I'd say you have to look at the opposition team in general. Anyone can dribble or tackle you but the good thing is you always have a second chance to recover from it. I couldn't say the name of a player to be realistic; it was all about the team. The small teams are the most difficult to beat, especially for a forward when you are facing 11 defenders, 11 players making yours a difficult job and that is why it is more important to be skillful than powerful to beat them.
A last question – Maradona
and Pele peaked in their late 20s but you played until you were 40. Is it possible nowadays to keep playing until your 40s?
If you are enthusiastic and passionate about football there is no doubt that you can make it. If you have not been seriously injured you can go to your 40s with no problem. I retired when I was 39 because my back problems were affecting my leg but I kept playing for the veterans team until I was 62.