In the first of our ‘Terrifying Trios’ series, David Smith revisits Real Madrid’s devastating attacking trio of Alfredo Di Stéfano, Francisco Gento, and Ferenc Puskás…
Long before Real Madrid boasted an attacking trio of Benzema, Ronaldo, and Bale, there was Di Stéfano, Gento, and Puskás.
Los Blancos have won back-to-back Champions League titles under Zinedine Zidane, but they still have a long way to go to match the Madrid team of the 1950’s, who won five in a row.
Madrid claimed Europe’s most coveted trophy each year from 1956 until 1960, establishing themselves as arguably the greatest club side of all time.
Their formidable team was spearheaded by a terrifying attacking trio, comprised of Alfredo Di Stéfano, Francisco Gento, and Ferenc Puskás, and the Spanish giants managed 112 European goals over these five glorious seasons.
The 1960 final is regarded as one of the greatest matches of all time, and featured four goals from Puskás and a Di Stéfano hat trick in a 7-3 win over Hamburg in front of 127,621 fans in Scotland.
In total, the trio – who were aided with other world class attackers such as Raymond Kopa – scoring a scarcely believable 437 goals in just six seasons together.
Alfredo Di Stéfano
“The history of football simply cannot be imagined without Don Alfredo’s extraordinary presence” – Michel Platini
Alfredo Di Stéfano is widely regarded as Real Madrid’s greatest player of all time.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1926, Di Stefano had spells at Argentinian giants River Plate and Colombian side Millinarios (winning six titles in 12 years between both clubs) before being snapped up by Madrid in 1953.
The iconic striker scored 308 goals in 396 official matches for the La Liga giants, won eight league titles, and won the Ballon d’Or twice. He is also the only player to be ever awarded a Super Ballon d’Or, which he accepted in 1989.
His stunning record of 216 league goals in 262 games was eventually surpassed by both Raul and Cristiano Ronaldo, but Di Stéfano was an icon as much of a goalscorer.
He was quick, robust and technically gifted.
He won 18 trophies in 11 years at the club, including the aforementioned five in a row. Incredibly, he scored at least once in each of those five finals, including a hat-trick in the fifth final.
The lightning quick striker was even kidnapped in 1963 during Madrid’s pre-season in Venezuela to attract publicity for a guerrilla organization’s campaign against government corruption.
He moved to Espanyol at the age of 38 in 1964 and retired two years later.
Di Stéfano won just six caps for his native Argentina in an era when players often represented their country of residence. He represented Colombia on four occasions during his time in Bogota, and lined out for the Spanish national team 31 times (scoring 23 goals).
Unfortunately, ‘Blond Arrow’ never appeared at a World Cup.
Di Stéfano moved into management after his retirement, and was appointed as the Honorary President of Real Madrid in 2000.
“There is a list of great ones like Cruyff, Maradona and Pelé and of course Puskas and Di Stéfano – I thought he was one of the greatest in my mind,” Ferguson said after the Argentinian’s death in 2014 at the age of 88.
Francisco “Paco” Gento López
“I was just sitting there, watching, thinking it was the best thing I had ever seen” – Sir Bobby Charlton
Sadly, Gento – now 83 – is the only surviving member of arguably the best attacking trio in football history. Fittingly, he was appointed as the Honorary President of Real Madrid following Alfredo Di Stéfano’s passing in 2014.
The Spaniard, who played on the left of the front three, remains the only player in history to have won six European cups, and only Paolo Maldini can match his eight appearances in European finals.
He won 12 La Liga titles, six European Cups, two Copa del Rey titles, two Latin Cup’s and one Intercontinental Cup in 17 seasons at Madrid, scoring 128 times in 428 appearances in the league.
‘Paco’ caught the eye in the 1952/53 season during his debut season with Racing Santander, earning him a move to the Bernabeau, where he inherited the number 11 jersey.
He had frightening pace and an eye for goal, and he was known in his homeland as La Galerna del Cantábrico (The Gale of the Cantabrian Sea). It was claimed that he could run 100 metres in around 11 seconds, and he is still remembered as one of the fastest wingers of all time.
His key contributions from the left wing – he scored 30 goals in 89 European appearances – helped Real Madrid to their historic five in a row, and he was still playing his part when the Spanish giants won their next European title in 1966.
Gento scored the crucial winning goal in a 3-2 victory against AC Milan in the 1958 final, and later revealed that Di Stefano told him would be up to him (Gento) to win their third consecutive European title.
He was still there when Real Madrid overcame Chelsea in the 1971 European Cup Winners’ Cup final, making him the only player to play in the European Cup for 15 consecutive seasons.
”I don’t think we really realised what it all meant until we won the first title in the final in Paris,” he reflected in 2015.
“Then we were able to see what the European Cup was all about. It was something indescribable.”
He was also capped 43 times by Spain, scoring five goals and playing in two World Cups during his 14 year international career. Sadly, he missed Spain’s triumph at the European Championships in 1964.
“If a good player has the ball, he should have the vision to spot three options. Puskás always saw at least five” – Jeno Buzanszky
514 goals in 529 matches in the Hungarian and Spanish football.
84 international goals in 85 caps for Hungary.
Ferenc Puskás was one of the best footballers of all time.
The ‘Galloping Major’ could have been replaced by Raymond Kopa on this list – who played with Di Stéfano and Gento for a longer period – but Puskas’ contributions to this magic Madrid side mean he can’t be excluded.
He was a prolific playmaker, and boasted a wonderful left foot. He is regarded as Hungary’s finest ever player, and was also famous for his drinking exploits.
He won the Olympics in 1952, and was named as the best player at the 1954 World Cup, where he led his Hungary side to the final (the Hungarian trio of Puskás, Kocsis and Bozsik will be explored in a later ‘Terrifying Trio’ entry).
He represented Kispest and Budapest Honvéd in his homeland, and was top scorer in the Hungarian League on four occasions, winning five titles. He was the top scorer in world football in 1948, netting 50 goals in total.
Unfortunately, he lost two years of his career for defecting from Hungary before signing for Real Madrid in 1958, at the age of 31.
Despite being 31, Puskás won three consecutive European titles with Los Blancos. He became (and still is) the only player to score four goals in a European Cup final in the 1960 final mentioned above.
The left-footed genius was also the top scorer four times in La Liga (he scored four hat-tricks in his first season), where he won another five league titles.
Puskás scored a hat-trick in the 1962 European final, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Madrid losing 5-3 to Benfica. In 1963, he scored a hat-trick both home and away against Barcelona.
In total, he scored 156 goals in 180 La Liga matches. The Hungarian hitman racked up a phenomenal 35 goals in 39 European performances for Madrid, and scored both goals in the 2-1 in the 1962 Copa final.
In 1995, he was recognized as the top scorer of the 20th century by the IFFHS. He finished as a Ballon d’Or runner up, and was named as the World Soccer Player of the Year in 1953.
He died in 2006 (having been diagnosed with diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2000) at the age of 79 in Budapest, but his legacy lives on.
Puskás Ferenc Stadion, its metro station, Puskás Akadémia FC, Puskás Cup and the FIFA Puskás Award all bear his name.
Individually, Di Stefáno, Gento, and Púskas were world class players. Together, they were unstoppable.