Two players, two different footballing ages, one famous name.
- Luis Suárez Miramontes starred for Barcelona and Inter Milan in the 1950s and 60s
- “The Golden Galician” won consecutive European Cups in 1964 and 1965 with Il Grande Inter
- Remains the only Spaniard to receive the Ballon D’Or
- Won the 1964 European Championship with Spain
- Led national side to World Cup Finals as coach in 1990
Ordinarily two players with careers taking place 50 years apart, would not be compared but for the coincidence of sharing a name now famous to football fans across several generations.
As one third of world football’s most deadly strike force, Luis Suárez Diaz, Barcelona’s Uruguayan striker, has enjoyed a stellar season for the Blaugrana. As he prepares for the Champions League final and a potential Treble in his first season at the Camp Nou, he still has some way to go to match the achievements of the first great Luis Suárez.
In the 1950s and 60s that name was celebrated in Spain and Italy for the exploits of a playmaker who was one of the greatest players of his generation. Whilst Luis Suárez Miramontes’ career may have been played-out in black and white rather than high-definition, his achievements are no less impressive.
As recipient of the Ballon D’Or in 1960, he remains the only Spanish-born player to have won the prize, going on to be named runner-up in 1961 and 1964. The great Alfredo di Stefano, called him “El Arquitecto” in recognition of his technique, vision and ability to use the space around him to his advantage. A gifted midfielder, initially in a free-scoring attacking role for Barcelona, and later in a deep-lying playmaker role for Inter Milan; he played the game in the manner of one of that great city’s famous opera house conductors.
Suárez was born in A Coruña, Galicia, in May 1935, a year before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. As legend would have it, the Golden Galician joined his hometown club, Deportivo La Coruña at the age of 14, having honed his skills playing street and beach soccer with rolled up rags for a football.
A year after his full debut for the club, and at the age of just nineteen; Suárez moved to Barcelona. In his 7 years at the club, he would win back-to-back La Liga titles, the Copa del Generalísimo (Spanish Cup) twice and 2 Inter-City Fairs Cup titles. This was a time of much change for Barça as the club outgrew their Les Courts home and moved to the Camp Nou. Suárez played alongside legends such as Kubala, Czibor, Kocsis, Ramallets and Evaristo and learned from the Italian coach Sandro Puppo.
In 1961 Suárez became the world’s most expensive player when he moved from Barcelona to Inter Milan for the princely sum of 250m lira (£142,000). Imagine signing a 26 year old hybrid version of Xavi and Andrea Pirlo and you are getting close to what Inter had signed.
Suárez’s mentor was the great Argentine coach Helenio Herrera who helped shape his game at Barça before convincing him to test himself in Italy with Inter Milan where arguably, Suárez would play the best football of his career.
Suárez settled well in Italy, observing how close the cultures were aside from the tactical emphasis on the art of scoring goals in his homeland, and the practice of stopping them in his adopted nation.
At 5′ 9″ he was no tough-tackling midfield general and he had to adapt his game to suit the Italian physicality and emphasis upon tactical nous. His reading of the game and movement on the pitch meant he was often in the right place, at the right time to break up play. His vision and range of passing was intricate as well as exquisite. Clever movement aided his ability to build counter-attacks from the back before getting into the box to finish moves. Above all, Suárez seemed to possess that rarest of qualities on a football pitch; time.
Milan would become home for 9 seasons. Herrera moulded Suárez into a deep-lying playmaker, perhaps the first regista and he would be pivotal in Il Grande Inter’s success. Together, they would win 3 Scudettos, 2 European Cups and 2 Intercontinental Cups in a period of dominance for the San Siro club. Best known for Catenaccio, Herrera’s plans relied on the implementation of “vertical football,” a direct approach to the game centered on swift counter-attacks.
The one major honour to have eluded Suárez at Barça had been the big-eared one, the European Cup. In one of his final games before his move to Italy, Suárez and Barcelona travelled to Switzerland to face Benfica in what became known as the “square-posts” final. Barça had been denied by the woodwork throughout the match and ultimately succumbed to a painful 3-2 defeat.
In 1964, Inter reached the European Cup Final where they would meet Suárez’s old rivals from his days at Barcelona, Real Madrid; a team that had reached seven out of the nine finals to date. Mazzola scored two goals in a 3–1 victory. Intercontinental Cup honours followed against Independiente and Inter could rightly crow they were champions of the World. A year later, Inter repeated the feat by beating two-time winner Benfica in the European Cup, before again defeating Independiente in the Intercontinental Cup. Suárez and Inter were on top of the world.
International honours arrived for Spain and Luisito in the form of the 1964 European Championship title which would be La Roja’s last major tournament victory for 44 years. In all, Suárez represented his country on 32 occasions scoring 14 goals. He played at both the 1962 and 1966 World Cups and would return to coach his country at Italia ’90.
Inter had a chance to deliver a 3rd European crown in 1967, however Suárez was injured and could only watch as his teammates lost 2-1 to Celtic’s Lisbon Lions. For many, the match signalled the end of true Catenaccio and a switch in football’s balance of power from Southern to Northern Europe.
Suárez rounded off his playing career with Sampdoria and retired in 1973. He then embarked upon a coaching career that saw him return to Inter Milan and hometown club Deportivo La Coruña amongst a line of teams where in truth, Suárez never really scaled the same heights he had reached in his glittering playing days. Well into his retirement, Luis Suárez Miramontes still played an active role in youth coaching and scouting and his love, knowledge and appreciation for the game does not show signs of diminishing.
The latter-day incarnation has found his groove for Barça after his much publicised break from the game following last summer’s World Cup and has the backing of his namesake to go on and replicate his success. The elder Luis Suárez, now in his 80th year joked, “with a name like that, he cannot fail.”