MADRID (AP) — Tributes flowed as quickly as the news of Alfredo Di Stefano's death spread across continents, with Pele joining modern stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi among the thousands praising the Real Madrid great as a luminary of the game.
Di Stefano, the Argentine forward who helped lead Madrid in its glorious era in the 1950s and 60s, passed away on Monday aged 88, two days after he was hospitalized following a heart attack.
"Don Alfredo leaves us, but his memory will last forever in our hearts," Real Madrid star Ronaldo wrote on Twitter. "Legends never die. Thanks for everything Maestro."
Messi, the Barcelona star who is in Brazil preparing to lead Argentina into the World Cup semifinals against Netherlands, said: "The world lost a legend today, Don Alfredo Di Stefano."
"An amazing man on and off the field," Messi added in a Facebook post. "My thoughts are with his family and friends."
Pele posted a tribute on Twitter from Brazil, saying the "the openness between Latin American players and European clubs is very much due to the work of Alfredo Di Stefano."
"He was a trailblazer, and most of all, he was a legend of the game. God rest his soul."
Football's official hierarchy responded swiftly to note Di Stefano's contribution to the game, with FIFA president Sepp Blatter describing him as his "favorite player" and "the most complete player I've seen."
French great and European football chief Michel Platini praised Di Stefano for revolutionizing football.
"He won everyone's hearts with his brilliance as part of the legendary Real Madrid team that left its indelible mark on European football," Platini said. "He was superb technically, possessed outstanding speed, and was a splendid goal scorer.
"Together with his gifted teammates, he helped invent modern football. He embodied all that is magical about football, in Europe and across the world."
In a club that has been home to some of the world's leading players, Madrid's club website trumpeted Di Stefano as "the best player of all time," putting him above other leading players and "galaticos" to have donned Madrid's all-white uniform, which include Ferenc Puskas, Raul Gonzalez, and Zinedine Zidane among others.
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