Luis Suárez in training with Spain

Luis Suárez: Spain’s first EURO superstar –

Described by Alfredo Di Stéfano as “the architect”, Luis Suárez Miramontes remains one of the most decorated players in the history of the game, winning league titles in Spain and Italy, two European Champion Clubs’ Cups, the UEFA European Championship and the Ballon d’Or.

After honing his skills on the streets of A Coruña with balls made of cloth, Suárez made his debut for Deportivo La Coruña in 1953 at the age of 18. it.

Barcelona took a chance on the attacking midfielder, who really came into his own when Helenio Herrera arrived at the Camp Nou in 1958. The Argentina coach was notoriously hard to please, but was immediately impressed by Suárez, who called him “a great organizer of teams”. who “lived an exemplary life”.

Luis Suárez in training with Spain©Getty Images

The Galician enjoyed the importance Herrera attached to him in a squad brimming with attacking talent from László Kubala, Evaristo de Macedo, Justo Tejada, Zoltán Czibor and Sándor Kocsis. Barcelona flourished, winning a league and cup double in 1959 and the league again the following year. In 1960, Suárez became the first – and so far only – Spaniard to claim the Ballon d’Or, presenting the trophy to Barcelona’s club museum on April 29 this year.

“I was the organizer,” he said of his role in Herrera’s team. “I started deep but covered a lot of ground and I had a broad perspective and vision. I had a change of pace, good technique and could shoot from outside the box.”

Suárez came close to European glory with Barcelona in 1961, losing 3-2 to Benfica in a logically defying European Cup final that saw the Blaugrana hit the woodwork five times. That night in Bern was one of his last appearances for Barça; that summer he joined mentor Herrera at Inter for a then-record fee of 25 million pesetas, around €150,000.

“I don’t think I would ever have agreed to leave Spain if it wasn’t for Herrera,” Suarez said. “He was ahead of his time. His training sessions took half the time of other teams, but we were twice as tired due to their intensity.”

The feeling was mutual. “To build a great Inter squad, I needed a great midfielder and Suárez was the best,” explained Herrera. With Suárez the final piece in Herrera’s jigsaw puzzle, Inter won their first Serie A championship in nine years in 1963, and won the European Cup the following year, beating Real Madrid 3–1 in the final.

Inter’s 1960s European Cup double

“My best memory is without a doubt the Vienna final against Real Madrid for several reasons,” Suarez said a few years ago. “It was only then that we realized we were such a great team. We had beaten a fantastic side that had dominated European football. For me, a former Barcelona player, I got double satisfaction. I will never go into the light the eyes of our president [Angelo Moratti] after our triumph in Vienna. If I were a painter and I had to paint ‘happiness’ I would try to reproduce those eyes.”

Yet Suárez was not just satisfied with conquering Europe with his club: that same summer he helped Spain win the UEFA European Championship in their own country. Then, aged 29 and the oldest player in the country, he led a young side to victories against Hungary in the semi-finals and the Soviet Union in the final.

EURO 1964 final highlights: Spain 2-1 USSR

Another European Cup victory followed with Inter in 1965, this time against Benfica. The Nerazzurri reached the final again in 1967, although Suárez played no part in the defeat to Celtic due to injury.

Suárez saw his playing days at Sampdoria over and later returned to Inter for three different spells as a coach. He also took charge of Spain in the 1990 FIFA World Cup, although Suárez, despite his coaching career spanning two decades, always felt more comfortable on the pitch. “I didn’t get very far as a coach; I was better as a player,” he admitted.

Luis Suárez took Spain under his wing at the 1990 World Cup

Luis Suárez took Spain under his wing at the 1990 World Cup©Getty Images

Although there is a plaque for Suárez in A Coruna, he continues to live in Milan and does not regret moving from Spain to Italy 54 years ago. “I found it challenging to see if I could accomplish something outdoors,” he said. “I left a huge team in Barcelona to join an Inter side that was not very well known in Europe at the time. It was great because we won a lot of trophies and made Inter a great team.”

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