Luis Suarez Miramontes

Born: May 2, 1935;

Died: July 9, 2023

Luis Suarez Miramontes, who has died aged 88, was one of world football’s all-time greats. Perhaps he did not quite attain the high profile of Pele, Cruyff and Maradona but he was a magnificent player who enjoyed an outstanding career with Barcelona and Inter Milan and international success with Spain.

His many honours included the Ballon d’Or (European Player of the Year award), Spanish and Italian League titles and Cups, the European Nations’ Championship, European Cups and Inter Continental Cups (world club championships), as well as being at one time the world’s most expensive player. As coach he guided Spain’s under-21 team to its first European Championship title in 1986 and the senior national side to the knockout stages of the 1990 World Cup.

Given his CV it is surprising that he is not more universally acclaimed as a household name. Extremely talented, he possessed many attributes. Suarez could make long accurate passes, had a powerful shot, was elusive, and, if necessary, had a “bit of dig” about him. The legendary Di Stefano nicknamed him El Arquitecto, in appreciation of his creative qualities and importance to the team.

He played three times in Scotland, his first in a World Cup qualifier at Hampden in 1957 when Scotland won 4-2, effectively ending Spain’s chances of reaching the 1958 finals. Scoring a goal was little consolation for “the worst moment of my career”, as he described it later.

Next was the infamous encounter between Hibs and Barcelona in the ‘Fairs Cup’ at Easter Road in 1961. The match was tied at 2-2 when with five minutes remaining Hibs were awarded a penalty, a cue for mass disorder by Spanish players with Suarez initially very involved. The referee was surrounded, pushed, kicked and pursued all over the pitch amid chaotic scenes, only brought under control once numerous police arrived on the pitch. The penalty was scored to earn Hibs a memorable win with Barcelona later apologising and returning to play a friendly.

Suarez’s final game was less contentious, a European Cup quarter final in 1965 for Inter Milan against Rangers at Ibrox where the home team won but lost on aggregate. Although press previews labelled him a “danger man” he played a largely defensive role.

Years later when coach of Spain he returned here on a ‘spying’ mission and was looked after over three days by then SFA staff coach Cammy Murray, ex-St Mirren player, who recalled, “ It was a pleasure being with him. He was a terrific fellow, very natural and humble.”

Luis Suarez Miramontes was born in Avenida de Hercules in A’Coruna in Galicia, north west Spain, where his family ran a butcher’s shop. Two older brothers played professionally and he was soon spotted by local club Deportivo La Coruna who enlisted him as a youth. By season 1953/4 he was playing in the senior side after making his debut against Barcelona in a 6-1 defeat. But the Catalan side saw something they liked; in March 1954 they signed him for £14,000 and he debuted for them in a cup tie against Deportivo two months later.

He was well established by season 1958/9 which coincided with the arrival of Helenio Herrera as manager who would play a crucial role in Suarez’s progress. The Argentinian, despite occasionally idiosyncratic methods, was a huge factor in his becoming world class. With him at the helm, Suarez and teammates won two Spanish Cups, two Spanish League titles and two Fairs Cups. In 1960 he was awarded the prestigious Ballon D’Or, the only Spanish-born male ever to win it, overcoming football royalty like Puskas, Di Stefano, Kopa, Yashin, and Bobby Charlton. He also finished second twice and third once for the award.

After an unlucky loss to Benfica in the 1961 European Cup Final, he left Barcelona to reunite with Herrera at Inter Milan for a then world record fee of around £200,000. Despite his success Barcelona fans could be very critical, probably because of their perception he was a rival to their favourite, the Hungarian star Kubala with whom Suarez enjoyed a good relationship.

This manifested itself when on return to the Nou Camp playing for Inter, the home fans jeered him, provoking Suarez to respond with a “corte de manga”, best translated as a rude gesture!

The Italian fans took him to their hearts and considered him one of their own as Inter took over Real Madrid’s mantle as the dominant team in Europe in the early and mid 1960s, accumulating three Italian Leagues, two European Cups and two World Club Championships.

In 1970 he joined Sampdoria for a few seasons before retiring.

Internationally he won 32 caps for Spain between 1957 and ’72, the highpoint winning the 1964 European Championships, his country’s first major triumph. His excellent performances were recognised with selection for the Team of the Tournament. He also played in the 1962 and ’66 World Cups.

As coach he had several spells with Inter and other Italian clubs while he did quite well with Spain, losing only 8 of 27 matches.

Latterly he undertook football media work in Italy where he continued living in Milan near the San Siro stadium and was considered an astute and entertaining commentator. In 2010 he was very moved to unveil a commemorative plaque outside his birthplace in A’Coruna, inscribed-‘A ‘Luisito’, el Arquitecto del Futbol.’