Alfredo Di Stefano greatest of all time

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has hailed Alfredo Di Stefano as the best player ever to have played the game in the wake of the legendary forward's death at the age of 88.

Di Stefano had been in a coma at the Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Maranon in Madrid after he suffered a heart attack during a meal to celebrate his 88th birthday at the weekend; he died early on Monday evening.

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A true legend of the game, Argentina-born Di Stefano made his name at Madrid, inspiring the club to five successive European Cup triumphs and twice winning the Ballon d'Or -- in 1957 and 1959.

He had been serving as Madrid's president and was often seen at the unveiling of new signings, while the stadium of the club's reserve team bears his name.

And, addressing a news conference in Madrid on Monday, Perez insisted Di Stefano was peerless.

"Today is a day of absolute sadness for Real Madrid and dare I say it the entire football world," Perez told assembled journalists. "Di Stefano was the most important player in the history of Real Madrid and the best footballer of all time.

"Alfredo Di Stefano is Real Madrid. He was decisive, determined and changed the destiny of this institution. He was able to extend the passion for Real Madrid to all corners of the world.

"We have the obligation to tell people that didn't see it about a footballer who was capable of everything. It's thanks to Di Stefano that FIFA named Real Madrid the best team of the 20th century.

"Alfredo Di Stefano, president of honour, Real Madrid will never forget you."

The football world was united in paying tribute to Di Stefano, with Brazilian icon Pele tweeting: "Back when we played, Santos and Real Madrid were for many years primary rivals, for having the best football teams in the world.

"Today, 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."

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who watched a Di Stefano masterclass at Hampden Park as Eintracht Frankfurt were swept aside 7-3 in the 1960 European Cup final, also offered his sympathies.

"He was one of the greatest in my mind," Ferguson told Sky Sports News. "He had a fantastic balance and poise. If you look at one of the goals he scored in the final against Eintracht Frankfurt it was completely what we are saying about the balance and poise, unbelievable he was.

"I was very sad to hear the news. Even at 88 it is a bit of a shock. I saw him two years ago before our Real Madrid game and he looked fine and looked full of health so it is disappointing to hear the news."

Among the many other tributes, Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo hailed Di Stefano as a "maestro'' while FIFA president Sepp Blatter described the Argentina-born forward as "the most complete player".

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who led Madrid to their last Primera Division title, said: "It was with immense sadness I learned of the death of Alfredo Di Stefano, a wonderful man I had the fortune to know during my time in Madrid.

"Alfredo was the best Real Madrid player in history -- winning five consecutive European Cups -- and one of the greatest of all time. Rest in peace Alfredo.''