Anyone who regarded Alfredo Di Stefano and the Real Madrid of the 1950s and 1960s as a byword for eloquence, technique, positive thinking, even romance in football, will have read Matt Vallance’s obituary of him (8 July) with interest.
He captivated a generation of sports followers and had iconic status long before the cult of football celebrity became fashionable. But as Vallance points out, he was not immune to the occasional piece of flattery.
That was exploited to good effect by Sir Alex Ferguson in the run-up to the 1983 European Cup-Winners’ final in Gothenburg between Aberdeen and the Spanish legends. The late Jock Stein had been invited by Fergie to the game as a guest and suggested Di Stefano, then Real coach, be presented with a bottle of whisky. “Let him feel important, as if you are thrilled just to be in the final and only there to make up the numbers,” Stein advised.
It seemed to throw the Madrid coach slightly off balance, encouraged a bit of complacency and, against the odds, Aberdeen won 2-1. Di Stefano gracefully paid tribute to the Dons’ “unstoppable spirit”.
Interestingly, Ferguson, when established at Manchester United, used the same ploy against Johan Cruyff, then coach of Barcelona, in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1991 in Rotterdam. A bit of sports psychology seemed to work wonders against some of the great football supremos of our time.