Far from the fanfare and drama of the Camp Nou, tucked away from modern goal scoring records and gossip surrounding his namesake, deep in the technical secretary’s office at Inter Milan, sits an 81 year old Galician by the name of Luis Suarez, working as a scout. He’s a softly spoken sort, but when he does have an opinion, folks tend to listen. Aside from managing Inter Milan on three occasions, there’s also the three Serie A titles he won for the Nerazzuri, along with two European Cups, along with the small matter of being the only Spaniard ever to win the Ballon D’Or – something even his namesake at time of writing is yet to achieve.
‘Luisito’ as his friends called him, achieved even more than that, though. He’s responsible for changing the way people looked at midfield play and how a midfielder can contribute key goals. After being discovered playing football as a youth on the beaches of La Coruna in spain, an early spell playing for Deportivo went well enough he earned the nickname ‘The Golden Galician’ and promptly received the call from Barcelona in 1954. It was an inauspicious start for Suarez, however, being put out on loan in the segunda with CD España Industrial for most of his first season and then being forced to sit out much of Barcelona’s unsuccessful campaign against a then rampant Real Madrid side. It was a time of great change for the Blugrana as they moved from their original Les Courts home to the all new Camp Nou but the real change came 3 years later with the arrival of legendary Argentinian coach Helenio Herrera at the Camp Nou. Herrera saw something in Luisito nobody else had until then and made him his key player, instrumental in the attack that was to land the double haul of the La Liga title and Copa del Generalissimo in Herrera’s first season with Barcelona, prying the number one spot from the previously dominant Real Madrid.
Suarez was rapidly distinguishing himself as one of Spain’s greatest players, even alongside Barcelona legends like Czibor, Kocsis, Evaristo, Kubala and Ramallets. His exceptionally smooth and refined technique led people to comment it wouldn’t have looked out of place for him to have played in a dinner jacket. Precision passing, footwork and a generous amount of goals earned Luis Suarez, full name Luis Suarez Miramontes, the accolade of being the first, and to date only, Spanish player to win the prestigious Ballon D’Or in 1960, donating the trophy later to Barcelona’s museum, where it can still be seen today.
All was not rosy with Barcelona despite the on-pitch success of the previous years and Luis Suarez’s career there was to end on a low-note with a 3-2 defeat to Benfica in the European Cup final of 1961 in what became known as the ‘square posts’ final, with Barca having hit the post so often throughout the match. It followed a falling out between the club and Helenio Herrera and a period of financial difficulties which forced the Blugrana into selling their star asset. Just 5 days after the loss to Benfica, Herrera summoned his former charge to Inter Milan, where he’d taken the job of manager. The transfer was completed shortly afterwards for the then world record sum of €200,000.
“I left a big club in Barça to join an Inter side that at that point were not very well-known on the European stage. It was hugely satisfying because we won loads of titles during those years and made Inter great.”
Herrera’s plan was to revolutionise how Inter played, changing the defensive minded, overly tactical game traditionally associated with Serie A, and open up a more flowing, attacking technique, and Luis Suarez was his key figure. Moving the Galician back into a slightly more defensive role, and honing his physicality, tactical nous and reading of the game to the ‘Vertical football’ counter-attacking style Herrera had developed, Luis Suarez developed a keen ability to break up play, build considered counter-attacks and then arrive in attacking positions ready to finish them off. with Luisito, Herrera practically invented the role of the deep lying playmaker, or Regista in the Italian game. His goal rate dropped drastically but his impact on the match only increased with Herrera himself declaring:
“Inter is great but Suárez is the prophet.”
El Arquitecto – the architect – became his new nickname and his goal was clear, the one trophy to have thus far eluded him; the European Cup. It wouldn’t be long in coming. Inter Milan made the final in 1964 against the glorious Real Madrid side that included Puskás, Gento and Di Stéfano. Inter swept them aside 3-1 with fellow Inter legend Sandro Mazzola grabbing two goals. An inter-continental cup victory against Independiente meant Inter, and Luis Suarez, were truly top of the world.
Just twelve months later Luis Suarez would be given the chance for a sweet revenge against the Benfica side who’d punished him at Barcelona. The final was played in Inter’s home stadium, the San Siro, and went Inter’s way, with the Nerazzuri taking it home with a narrow 1-0 win. Il Grande Inter concluded their global dominance by beating Independiente once again to claim back to back intercontinental cup titles.
1964 was a big one for another reason for Luis Suarez with victory in the 1964 European Championships, then called the European Nations Cup, with Spain, something La Roja wouldn’t be able to match for another 40 years, with Luis Suarez being flown into Spain especially by the Spanish football Association from Milan whenever they had a game. Playing with other Spanish footballing legends like Amancio Amaro, José Ángel Iribar, Josep Maria Fusté, and Jesús María Pereda, Spain were able to defeat holders the Soviet Union by a scoreline of 2-1, with El Arquitecto setting up both goals. Having left a less than pleasant taste in the mouth for many Spanish fans with his departure for Inter, Luis Suarez had more than atoned.
“We weren’t the most gifted Spanish national side ever but we did play more as a team,”
Luis Suarez made a final move to Sampdoria before retiring in 1970 to take up a career in coaching. He was never quite able to match the feats he achieved on the pitch however, and after his last post as manager of Inter Milan in 1995, he took a post in that technical secretary’s office where he still sits today, scouting for the next generation of Inter Milan talent.