Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


ALFREDO DI STEFANO

Alfredo Di Stefano, the greatest player of the 1950s, has died in Madrid.  He celebrated his 88th birthday on July 4 but suffered a heart attack the following day and passed away at Gregorio Maranon hospital two days after that.

Known as “The Blond Arrow,” the Argentine-born Di Stefano scored more than 800 goals in his career and was named European Footballer of the Year in 1957 and ’59.  Through his all-round skills and considerable leadership, Real Madrid won the first European Cup (now the UEFA Champions League) in 1956 and the next four that followed.  His record of 49 goals in 59 Euro Cup games still stands.  In the 1960 final before a crowd of 135,000 at Glasgow’s Hampden Park, Di Stefano scored four goals and teammate Ferenc Puskas three as Real Madrid pounded Eintracht Frankfurt, 7-3, in a match regarded by many as the greatest ever played.

Di Stefano’s career began in 1944 with River Plate.  He jumped to a Colombian pirate league in 1949 to play for Millonarios of Bogota, winning four titles in as many years.  Real Madrid tried to sign him in 1953, but, River Plate, which still technically owned his rights, struck a deal with Real’s arch rival, FC Barcelona, and FIFA approved the transaction.  The Spanish soccer federation, however, decreed that Di Stefano stay in Spain for four years, playing alternate seasons for Barcelona and Madrid.  Barca officials threw up their hands over the ludicrous decision and sold their share in Di Stefano to Madrid.  [July 8]

Comment:  Di Stefano never played in a World Cup, but nevertheless his career included a hat trick of national teams.  Early in his career he played seven games for his native Argentina.  While with Millonarios, he played four for Colombia.  And when he joined Real Madrid, he became a Spanish citizen and played 31 games for Spain, scoring 23 goals.  Had it not been for an injury, he would have played in the 1962 World Cup in Chile, where he would’ve teamed with his Madrid strike mate, Puskas, the Hungarian legend who was playing for his second country, and a third star forward in the twilight of his career, Barcelona’s Ladislao Kubala, who was playing for his third country.  (Kubala earlier had represented Czechoslovakia and his native Hungary).  Not long after, FIFA tightened up its rules on players playing for more than one country in full internationals.

 



NOPE, HOPE

U.S. Olympic Team goalkeeper Hope Solo will not be disciplined for a series of tweets in which she ripped NBC color commentator Brandi Chastain for criticizing the Americans’ defense during their 3-0 rout of Colombia in a second group-round match the day before in Glasgow.

Said coach Pia Sundhage after a meeting with Solo and team captains, “We had a conversation:  If you look at the women’s national team, what do you want (people) to see?  What do you want them to hear?  And that’s where we do have a choice–as players, coaches, staff, the way we respond to certain things.”

Solo’s tweets:

o  “Lay off commentating about defending and gking until you get more educated @brandichastain the game has changed from a decade ago. #fb”

o  “Its 2 bad we can’t have commentators who better represents the team&knows more about the game @brandichastain #fb”

o  “I feel bad 4 our fans that have 2 push mute, especially bc @arlowhite is fantastic.  @brandichastain should be helping 2 grow the sport #fb”

o  “Its important 2 our fans 2 enjoy the spirit of the olympics.Its not possible when sum1 on air is saying that a player is the worst defender!”

(Note:  Arlo White is NBC’s play-by-play man.)

The response by Chastain, best known for her winning penalty kick for the U.S. at the 1999 Women’s World Cup final:  “I’m here to do my job, which is to be an honest and objective analyst at the Olympics.”  [July 29]

Comment:  We’ve been down this road before.

Solo has popped off numerous times during her 12-year, 118-match international career, most infamously after she was benched in favor of back-up Briana Scurry for the USA’s 2007 Women’s World Cup semifinal, a game won by Brazil, 4-0.  That lineup blunder by coach Greg Ryan cost him his job, but for essentially throwing Scurry under the bus, Solo was voted off the squad, temporarily, by her teammates.  She also twice touched off other controversies via Twitter, the most recent in 2010 when, while playing for WPS’ Atlanta Beat, she questioned the integrity of match officials, drawing a one-game suspension and $2,500 fine.

Of course Solo is entitled to her opinions.  And many view Solo sticking up for herself and the players in front of her in Glasgow as demonstrating the same outspoken leadership traits as those exhibited by such notable male ‘keepers as Gianluigi Buffon, Peter Schmeichel and Toni Schumacher.  (Ironically, Chastain, in a newspaper interview before the Colombia match, praised Solo for her swagger.)

But Solo would do well to realize that she’s part of something very special in American sports.  What initially made the U.S. National/Olympic Women’s Team a sensation, winning hearts and minds among fans and non-fans alike was its good humor, good sportsmanship, and positive, one-for-all, all-for-one attitude.  Winning certainly didn’t hurt, but away from the field, if there were problems, apparently they stayed behind the scenes while they got solved.

This is Solo being the aptly named Solo.  The product of a broken home whose relationship with her occasionally homeless father, a Vietnam War vet, has been well documented (the latest, in a Newsweek cover story)–evidently she will continue to be the only U.S. player to take the field with a large chip on her shoulder.  But in the last couple of days she has helped make the U.S. women’s team–that oasis in a sports world drowning in greed, ego, poor sportsmanship and, yes, reckless tweets–a little less special.