Sid Low. ‘Fear and Loathing in La Liga’ 8. Signing of the Century
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The situation 

1953 was a turning point, a year that changed everything. Football can be divided into “Before Alfredo Di Stefano” and “After Alfredo Di Stefano”. Countless players have won medals, created magical moments to remember forever, and even led teams to glory, but few can truly claim to have changed history. Perhaps no one can claim to have changed history like the man who signed for Real Madrid in September 1953. “Nothing,” says Paco Gento, the only player to win six Eurocups, “would be the same without him.” Without Di Stefano, a lot of football is meaningless. He brought the game into the modern era and contributed more than anyone else to making the Champions Cup the most prestigious competition in the world. The culture and identity of Real Madrid is tied to what Di Stefano brought to the table. Without him, there would be no galácticos , no crowded stadium, no sense of grandeur or significance, and little of the success that makes them who they are. Without him, they would not be the most popular club in Spain and possibly the world; on the other hand, they would not be so hated. Barcelona would also be different, and so would their relationship: Di Stefano’s transfer to Madrid lies at the heart of the rivalry. One single player may never have symbolized so much. One could even argue that without Di Stefano, Spain itself would have been different too. The coincidence is certainly striking. 1953 is the year Madrid signed Di Stefano; it was also the year that Franco signed a concordat [note trans.: in canonical terminology, an agreement between the pope as head of the Roman Catholic Church and any state regulating the legal position of the Roman Catholic Church in this state and its relationship with the Holy See ; treaties with other countries are called conventions] with the Vatican and an agreement on military bases with the United States. All this happened in just four days. The concordat was signed on 27 August; The Madrid Pact with the US was signed the day before; and Di Stefano made his debut for Madrid three days before. Arriba state party newspaper later stated that the country had become “the decisive axis of world politics”. It was a wild exaggeration, but Spain was about to become the center of world football, and it was a shift that would have political implications as well, helping to change society and projecting Spain onto a world that had turned its back on it. According to former striker Emilio Butragueño, now director of the Bernabéu, “Madrid’s history begins with Alfredo.” 

The details

The frank truth is that when he arrived, Madrid was not very good. Atlético Madrid have won league titles since 1940, while Barcelona have won five, including the last two. After the end of the civil war, Atlético Bilbao, Atlético Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla won the championship, but Madrid did not. A total of fourteen post-war competitions were held. Madrid won two Cups, in 1945/46 and 1946/47, while Barcelona won nine. “Madrid hadn’t won a championship for many years,” recalls Di Stefano, “but it was a prestigious metropolitan club with an outstanding stadium and great players. It obliged us to be the best. I came, to do something great. I didn’t just come for the money, I came to win.” And he won immediately. Madrid won the championship in Di Stefano’s debut season – the first since 1933 – and won eight of the subsequent eleven seasons. The momentum has been shifted forever. Madrid have only won two league titles in their history before Di Stefano, but since his arrival in 1953 they have won thirty. They even have more than Barcelona, ​​twenty-three more than Atlético, twenty-four more than Athletic and twenty-six more than Valencia. Betis and Sevilla, who were only one title behind when he first arrived, are now thirty each behind. Madrid have also won the first five European competitions, with Di Stefano scoring in every final and playing in seven of the first nine finals, creating an unrivaled dynasty. No team has ever been so synonymous with a trophy. No wonder Barcelona fans can’t stop wondering what might have happened if… After all, they also signed Di Stéfano.