history | 2015-04-01
Luis Suárez, the magician from Galicia
The tale of the Spaniard Luis Suárez
With Uruguay's Luis Suárez the centre of attention for today's media, we're going to dedicate a few lines to commenting on his namesake from the '50s and '60s: Don Luis Suárez Miramontes.
The Galician was a left winger of outstanding ability, a link up player who carried the ball with his head up, with the kind of elegance only possessed by football's chosen ones. He was an Iniesta in wide areas and a ruthless finisher when he arrived in the box. His slalom-like runs with the ball were as surprising as they were effective, capable of overcoming rival defenses with devastating efficiency.
This footballer, who seemed to play as if it was a friendly kickabout, was signed by FC Barcelona in 1954, at just 19 years old, having showed his talent at Deportivo de la Coruña, who were managed by another football virtuoso, Don Carlos Iturraspe.
The fans in Barcelona's Les Corts stadium soon saw him as the heir to the great Ladislao Kubala (with whom they never fell out, however much the stories say so). For seven seasons, Luisito showed his remarkable ability and was the hero as they won two Copas de Ferias (1958 and 1960), two league titles (1959 and 1960) and two Copa del Generalísimo titles (1957 and 1959).
His silky right foot and superb football brain won him the 1960 Ballon d'Or, making him the only Spanish player to do so, even to this day. He was the man around whom FC Barcelona were to be built in the '60s, who appeared destined to lead the azulgrana to their first European cup.
Despite his unquestionable quality, his seemingly cold style led to some members of the stand pointing the finger at him when things were going badly. It is a common situation in football: Fans are suspicious of talented players, but passionately applaud the player who throws himself and fails spectacularly attempting to reach unreachable balls.
The stand was divided into supporters and detractors of the Galician genius, a scenario that has happened in football since time immemorial. However, his exit from the club had little to do with this debate.
In January 1961, the presidency of Miró-Sans, one of the biggest autocrats in the club's history, was on its last legs. The club was going through an incomparable crisis, both economically and in terms of football, with the team 20 points behind the great rival, Real Madrid.
The debt was becoming bigger and bigger as a result of the drifting budget of the Camp Nou. Originally budgeted at 67 million pesetas by a cousin of the president, Francesc Mitjans, the final figure was five times greater.
There were two incidents that resulted in the fans finally running out of patience. First of all, the manager, Viola, told the press that if the club didn't immediately sell the grounds of the old stadium (Les Corts), they would be bankrupt within two months.
Secondly, while the financial situation was at such a critical stage, the board was interested in signing the Spanish manager, Pedro Escartín, as technical secretary. They offered him a contract worth millions, seven times what Samitier earned for the same role. This drove Barcelona fans crazy, to the point where the peñas (supporters clubs) and many influential people from the club's history demanded the resignation of the entire leadership.
Facing such pressure, Miró-Sans stepped down a week later and an interim board took control of the club. Before such misgovernment and the overwhelming debt situation, the temporary leaders of the team decided to sell their best asset to Helenio Herrera's Inter in exchange for 25 million pesetas, a record fee at the time. That signing meant that the flagship of Barcelona's sporting future left the club.
The consequences were immediate. Barça began a journey through the desert with a title drought which didn't end until the arrival of a skinny Dutchman named Johan Cruyff, in 1973. On the economic side of things, the sale of Suárez just about served to pay a tiny amount of the debt that the club found itself in, consequently, the crisis dragged on.
Suárez played in the famous final de los postes in Bern, knowing that he had already been sold to the neroazzuro team. This did not stop him being Barcelona's best player in that game. However, his contribution wasn't enough; bad luck and Benfica stood in front of a club that seemed destined to crash at key moments.
Barcelona wallowed miserably in their journey through the desert, Helenio Herrera had found the brain around which he would build his Inter side. There was the leader of a team packed with talent in which Jair, Sandrino Mazzola, Mario Corso and Giaccinto Facchetti were the A-list stars with whom the Galician genius managed to win two European cups (1964 and 1965), two more intercontinental titles (1964 and 1965) and three scudettos (1963, 1965 and 1966).
While Luisito reigned in the old country, Barça faded away like a cube of sugar dissolving in water. The great Inter side remained strong until 1970, the year he left the club at 35 years old, because time waits for no man. He still managed to tick over for three seasons at Sampdoria, although in Genoa they still remember the glimpses of quality that the architect from La Coruña showed.
Football's wise old men have no doubt in confirming that, from their point of view, "The best Spanish footballer in history was Luisito, this is indisputable."
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WRITTEN BY: Ángel Iturriaga
A renowned Barcelona historian, Ángel (41) is one of the authorities when it comes to our club's past. Author of renowned books on Spanish football such as The Dictionary Of FC Barcelona Players (2010), The Dictionary of Coaches & Directors of FC Barcelona (2011), and The Dictionary of the Spanish National Team Players (2013). Ángel is mostly known for his biographical novel Paulino, the biography of one of the greatest ever Barcelona players he co-wrote with David Valero.