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Jul 7, 2014

Di Stefano's lasting legacy in Madrid

Real Madrid have no shortage of star names in their well-decorated history book, but in Alfredo Di Stefano, who died on Monday after suffering a heart attack, they enjoyed the services of one of the best footballers of all time.

"Thank you, Alfredo Di Stefano," said Los Merengues' official website following the announcement of his death at the age of 88. "The best player of all time passes away." Players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo and Raul are among the talent-packed players who have donned the club's famous all-white colours but Argentina-born Di Stefano, who was the club's honorary president, topped the lot.

He didn't just shine in his 11 trophy-packed years in the Spanish capital, he helped shape the future of arguably the most famous football club in the world. Here are five reasons the Blond Arrow, as he was affectionately known, was the most important player in the club's history.

Success breeds success

His individual talent ranked alongside the best players that have ever played the beautiful game. Scoring 308 goals in 396 competitive games for Madrid, Di Stefano set the benchmark for those stars who were to follow in his footsteps.

He became the first Real Madrid player to win the Ballon d'Or when he won football's greatest individual prize in 1957 and he added another two years later. To bag the award once is an honour, to do it twice takes a special talent, and the Argentine was certainly that.

His artistry rubbed off on the rest of his teammates and he hauled in a huge amount of trophies. Five consecutive European Cups, eight La Liga titles, one Spanish Cup and one Intercontinental Cup were among the vast array of club honours he bagged while with Los Blancos.

Alfredo Di Stefano in his third season with Real Madrid.

He played, shone and led Madrid's finest period in the club's history and set a winning mentality that continues to this day. Madrid were the leading light during the Blond Arrow's days, something they strive for now more than ever. Di Stefano set that winning mentality firmly in motion. His success has helped breed the success his club enjoy to this day.

The start of Madrid's European obsession

The European Cup has been an obsession for Madrid and Di Stefano played a key role in ensuring the trophy has become the most sought-after for Los Blancos.

The Argentine scored the first goal as Madrid lifted the trophy for the first time in 1956 and it was a crucial strike. His team were 2-0 down against Stade de Reims inside 10 minutes before he scored the goal that got Madrid back into the game and eventually helped them to a thrilling 4-3 success in Paris.

Di Stefano scored in each of Madrid's five European Cup final triumphs between 1956 and 1960. The five-star victories ensured Madrid were the team to beat in European competition and that continues to this day. It was therefore fitting that he was able to witness Los Merengues secure their long-awaited La Decima in Lisbon in May.

The start of the Galacticos

Di Stefano is often recognised as Madrid's first Galactico and can be credited with current president Florentino Perez's obsession with bringing in the best players on the planet.

The Argentine was one of the first off-the-pitch stars, as well as shining on the pitch, with a number of appearances on the silver screen as well as being the star attraction during Madrid's golden era. He was big business for the club outside of football, a trend that continues more than ever today.

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His talents caught the attention of Perez, then only a supporter during the Argentine's playing days, and Madrid's president brought his former idol on board at the Bernabeu in the capacity as honorary president during his first term in charge in 2000.

That star attraction rubbed off on Perez, who has ensured he brings in a Galactico most of the seasons he's been in charge at the Bernabeu. Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo and David Beckham have led the way. Stars for the club not only on the pitch, but off it, too. Perez and Di Stefano have always been at the side of the new additions when unveiled to the press.

El Clasico personified

The Blond Arrow has left a huge footprint on Real Madrid but it could so easily have been in Catalonia as Spain's old foes battled it out for his signature.

He first caught the attention of Madrid, and then-president Santiago Bernabeu, during a friendly in Madrid when playing for his Colombian club Millonarios, shining in a 4-2 victory for the visitors. It prompted Bernabeu to approach the club for his services to bring him to the Spanish capital, but the deal was not to prove straightforward.

Barcelona were also interested and made an approach to the Colombians, as well as his parent club River Plate in Argentina. River accepted the deal but Millonarios did not due to Barca's approach to the deal.

Eventually, however, Di Stefano was seemingly heading to Barcelona in 1953 but the Spanish federation refused to ratify the deal because both River and Millonarios could not agree on the deal. FIFA left the decision to the Spanish federation and they set up a deal that would allow the player to play for four seasons in the country -- two with Barca and two with Madrid.

Eventually, Di Stefano would manage Madrid on two separate occasions.

It was a deal that did not suit Barca and the player ended up in Madrid. It could so easily have been different and it could so easily have been the Blaugrana celebrating his success, and not Los Blancos.

Post-playing-day presence

Unsurprisingly, Madrid ensured Di Stefano continued to play a key role at Madrid when he retired as a player, although it was not imminent as then-president Bernabeu allowed his departure to Barcelona, albeit Espanyol. Believing the forward's time at the top was over, Bernabeu infuriated many Madrid fans by letting their star man leave the club, but he was sure to return.

He came back as manager and played a key role in the emergence of the famous La Quinta del Buitre, led by Emilio Butragueno. His first stint came from 1982 to 1984 and he returned for a second short spell in 1990, his final season in the dugout.

Although he won't be remembered for his management spells, the Argentine continued to be involved with the club, and in 2000 was named honorary president by Perez, lifting the Best Club of the 20th Century Trophy, awarded by FIFA.

Valdebebas, Madrid's top-of-the-range training facility, also has its main stadium named after him with a statue outside. Madrid's second team, Real Madrid Castilla, play their home matches there, where he will continue to be remembered among Madrid fans and players young and old.