Luis Suarez. The architect of football

A true giant of world football, but not necessarily who you might think.  Here's Jamie McGregor.

On 6 December of last year, FIFA and France Football announced the three finalists for the 2010 FIFA Ballon d´Or award. The result was a triumph for Spanish football, with all three coming from FC Barcelona. While the Catalan press rejoiced, the Madrid press also had a reason to celebrate. Although one of the candidates was Argentinean, the other two were Spanish. With Spain having just won the World Cup, the smart money appeared to be on either Andrés Iniesta or Xavi Hernández with the latter of the two a particular favourite. Although Iniesta scored the goal that won the World Cup, Xavi was the player who made Spain tick with his range and accuracy of passing.

In Spain, it's common to give players nicknames. If Casillas is the saint and Torres is the child then what is Xavi? A fitting name would be the architect that is if it weren't already taken.

In the Galician city of La Coruña there is a small bronze plaque with the inscription Luis Suárez o arquitecto do fútbol. It's not a homage to Liverpool's new Uruguayan striker but rather to one of the best players Galicia and indeed Spain have ever produced.

Luis Suárez Miramontes was born on 2 March 1935, one year before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. At the age of 14 he joined local youth side Fabril Sociedad Deportivo, the forerunner of Deportivo La Coruña B. After four years with Fabril he made the step up to the Deportivo first team, making his debut in a 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Barcelona.

Suárez went on to play just 17 times for Deporitvo before being transferred to league champions Barcelona. At the age of 19, you don't just walk into the Barcelona first team so Suárez spent most of his first season at the club in the reserves. That year Barcelona didn't win the league title, mainly due to the arrival of a certain Alfredo Di Stefano at Real Madrid.

From the start of the 1955 season, Suárez was a regular in the Barcelona first team but it took until the 1958/59 season and the arrival of manager Helenio Herrera before Barcelona finally broke the Madrid dominance. That season Barcelona won the League and Cup double with Suárez playing an integral role. Despite averaging a goal every two games for Barcelona, Suárez was not a striker. He was a playmaker. The nickname, el arquitecto, was given to Suárez due to his exceptional vision on the pitch. It was said that Suárez knew where he wanted to put the ball before he received it. Remind you of anyone?

Barcelona followed up one league and cup double with another, this time the cup was the Inter City Fairs Cup. This second double winning season brought an extra gong for Suárez as he became the first Spanish player to win the European Footballer of the Year award, also known as the Ballon d´Or.

The following season Barcelona had their eyes set on the next big prize, the European Cup. With Hungarian super star Ladislao Kubala and of course, European Player of the Year Suárez, they were one of the clear favourites. Real Madrid had won the previous five finals and Barcelona were desperate to emulate their greatest rivals. Ironically, the two clubs met in the first round with Suárez scoring two goals in a 4-3 aggregate win. Real Madrid's quest for a sixth title was over.

After that, Barcelona beat Spartak Hradec Králové of Czechoslovakia and Hamburg of Germany to set up a final with Benfica. The final was played in Bern with the Portuguese side coming out 3-2 victors.

For Suárez it was to prove to be his last game for the club and the biggest disappointment of his career. In an interview last year, Suárez commented, from all the finals I've played, that was the only one I lost..it was the negative mark on my time at Barcelona. It was also to be the last game for Helenio Herrera who fell out with the club and joined Italian giants Inter Milan.

The Nerazzurri hadn't won the league for 3 seasons and to make matters worse, bitter rivals AC Milan were enjoying a period of great success. Herrera wanted to modify how Inter played, giving them more flexibility in attack and for that he needed Suárez.

In the summer of 1961, Inter Milan paid a then record 250 million liras to bring Suárez to the club. For the player, the decision to leave Spain must have been difficult. If it's rare for Spanish players to move abroad today, it was almost unheard of back then.

With Suárez now in the team, the era known as the La Grande Inter began. The club won the league championships in 1963, 1965 and 1966. Suárez's duels with AC Milan star Gianni Rivera, as depicted in the documentary series Duelos de Oro, were legendary.

League success was one thing but what Suárez really wanted was the one cup that still evaded him, the European Cup. It was also the cup the club wanted, especially after city rivals AC Milan became the first Italian club to win it in 1963.

A year later, Inter and Suárez got their chance when the club reached the final for the first time in its history. The team they faced was none other than Real Madrid, still looking for their sixth title. Once again, Suárez lined up against Di Stefano and Puskás and once again he came out on top as Inter won 3-1.

1964 also marked another great triumph in Suárez's career. That summer Spain was hosting the second European Football Championships. The tournament was steeped in political significance. Spain had withdrawn from the inaugural tournament four years earlier as General Franco, a fascist and arch anti-communist, didn't want Spain to face the Soviet Union. On this occasion though, Franco relented and let Spain play. How ironic then that the two countries should meet in the final. In front of a packed Bernabéu stadium, Spain defeated the Soviets 2-1 with another Galician, Marcelino, scoring the winning goal.

Suárez returned to Italy to lead Inter to their second successive European Cup and once again the opponents were well known to the player. This time, playing in their own stadium, Inter defeated Portuguese champions Benfica. For Suárez, it must have gone some way towards avenging the 1961 final. Two years later, Inter reached yet another European Cup final but with Suárez out injured, they lost 2-1 to Glasgow Celtic.

In total, Suárez played 256 games for Inter, scoring 42 goals. In 1970 he left Inter but stayed in Italy, joining Sampdoria. After playing 63 games for the Genoa side, he brought an illustrious playing career to an end at the age of 38.

In Zurich the big moment has arrived. The Spanish press sit waiting to see which of the two favourites will become only the second Spanish player in history to win the Ballon d´Or. The headlines have already been written, all that remains is to insert the name Xavi or Iniesta. Of course, we all know what happened next.

Jamie is site editor for the wonderful Spanishfootball.info.

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