“The Braca fans still believe, they were robbed, while Real Madrid say that they had been smarter than Barca who were sloppy and less efficient while signing the superstar”

 

The name Alfredo Di Stefano and Real Madrid are synonymous. Whenever anyone asks the greatest footballer ever to play in a Real Madrid shirt then the debate would start between Di Stefano and Cristiano Ronaldo. Both of them gave Real Madrid so much that it is hard to choose between the two legends. But things could have been different way back in the mid-50s. Di Stefano could have ended up playing for the arch-rivals Football Club Barcelona.

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It sounds surprising but documents discovered earlier in 2017 showed that Di Stefano was first transferred to Barcelona. Files, which contains more than 30 documents, found at Di Stefano’s former club River Plate shows contacts between River Plate, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Millonarios de Bogota, as part of a complex operation. It was a move which is still a mystery to many.

According to the documents, Barcelona bought Di Stefano, but when he made his debut in Spain in 1953, he ended up playing for Real Madrid.

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Di Stefano joined River Plate in 1947 and then moved to Bogota, having also played for Argentina. While playing for River Plate, he was known as “The Blond Arrow” for scoring 27 goals in 30 games. River Plate won the title comfortably that year, and again in 1948. A players strike in 1949 saw many Argentine players travel to Colombia, to play in the then unofficial Di Mayor League. Di Stefano helped his new club Los Millonarios de Bogota dominate Di Mayor over the coming seasons, winning the league title in 1949, 1951, 1952, and 1953. Di Stefano scored 267 goals in his short stint, making him Millonarios’ second-highest scorer of all time.

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Immediately, he became the target of big clubs in Europe – especially, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

May 2, 1953: Catalan businessman Domingo Valls Taberner was given the task and power to represent Barcelona in securing Di Stefano.  Under FIFA rules at the time, he would have to return first to River Plate, by 1954.

According to El Pais, “River Plate initially asked $108,000 for Di Stefano, and after some haggling, Barcelona agreed to pay $87,000, the first half in cash by August 10, and the remainder in three installments by the end of 1954. The deal went ahead, as the documents bearing the signatures of senior officials at both sides show, although there was an important clause stating that Di Stefano had to be in Barcelona by July 26, “having overcome any difficulties that could arise from his presence in Colombia.” Otherwise, the agreement would be rescinded”.

With Di Stefano all set to unleash at Camp Nou, Real Madrid appeared in the scene.

Former Real Madrid President with Alferdo Di Stefano. Image Courtesy: Twitter
Former Real Madrid President with Alfredo Di Stefano. Image Courtesy: Twitter

Real contacted Bogota directly and then River Plate. In a letter dated May 24, signed by the then-president of Real Madrid, Santiago Bernabeu, it introduced the club’s treasurer, Raimundo Saport Namias. River Plate received a telegram from Bogota for days later saying that Bogota had reached “a total agreement” with Real Madrid “to cede the transfer until October 1954 of Di Stéfano.”

River Plate replied that they had already reached an agreement with Barcelona!

But, River Plate also signed an agreement with Real Madrid saying that if Barcelona did not make its first payment by August 11, 1953, then River Plate would transfer the star to Real Madrid.

August 7, 1953: Barcelona paid the first installment. River Plate confirmed in writing that it was authorizing the transfer of Di Stefano.

With the arch-rivals taking away one of the gems of that time, Real Madrid stuck to their task and piled the pressure on River Plate, who replied to Real’s telegram, to which the Argentinean side replied that Barcelona had paid the first deposit and that the memorandum of understanding with Real Madrid was no longer valid.

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The hard-nut-to-crack nationalist Catalan Lawyer Ramon Trias Fargas leading the negotiations proceed in a slow but steady manner. However, they made a fatal error by underestimating Bogota when they enlisted the help of another Catalan who was living in Colombia, Joan Busquets.

Busquets just happened to be a director of Millonarios’ biggest local rivals, Santa Fe, and his presence at the bargaining table made Boota reluctant about the move – especially when Barca strangely submitted an almost insufficient offer, which was rejected.

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Apparently believing that Bogota were irrelevant and that River Plate were the only club they needed to do business with, Barca just could not realize the importance of the bid with Bogota.

They reacted to the rejection by arranging Di Stefano and his family to leave Colombia and flew them to the north-east of Spain, where he started to settle into life with his new club – Barcelona and even played at least one pre-season friendly for Barca in the summer of 1953.

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According to BBC, “The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) intervened by refusing to sanction the transfer on the grounds that Millonarios had not agreed to it. The RFEF dismissed Barca’s complaints that the deal had nothing to do with the Colombian club, who the Catalans claimed had signed Di Stefano illicitly in the first place. Barca refused to budge from their position that they had an agreement with River Plate, who they believed were the legal owners of Di Stefano’s registration”.

“In the meantime, Real president Santiago Bernabeu took the advantage of the uncertainty to reach a similar deal with Millonarios”.

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“When the RFEF eventually reached its verdict in September 1953, it came to the startling compromise that Di Stefano could play for alternate clubs over the course of four years, starting with a season at Rea”.

Again, according to El Pais, the documents discovered earlier this year in Buenos Aires show that Barcelona’s claim on Di Stefano looked shaky by September of 1953. On September 7, the team contacted River Plate over press reports that River Plate would not give Barcelona its deposit back.

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By now, Real Madrid had bought the remaining year of Di Stefano’s contract from Bogota, at which point, FIFA intervened, issuing the supposedly Solomonic decision on September 15 that the forward would play for Real Madrid that season, for Barcelona the next, and alternately for each side until 1957. Barcelona refused to accept this and a month later sold Real Madrid the stake it had bought from River Plate.

Barcelona was humiliated.

President Marti Carreto was forced to resign and the interim board ripped up the contract.

There is a school of thought that, Spanish ruler General Franco played a big role in this move, which changed the scenario Real Madrid. Throughout the 50s, Real Madrid would be regarded as Franco’s team, but many historians say, Franco’s involvement in this deal has been exaggerated and it is nothing but a conspiracy theory.

But the move of Di Stefano to Real Madrid is still a hot topic among the fans in Spain during each and every El Clasico.

The Braca fans still believe, they were robbed, while Real Madrid say that they had been smarter than Barca who were sloppy and less efficient while signing the superstar.

On the day of El Clasico, perhaps, the fans are debating about this move.

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