A former Roma captain passed away on June 20th, 2021, with the ex-clubs of Luis Del Sol all in mourning.
Del Sol died at the age of 86 in his native Spain, nearly half a century after he represented Roma. His death was confirmed by Real Madrid, who described him as one of their club legends.
He only spent two seasons in the Spanish capital – as many as he would in the Italian equivalent years later. However, at both clubs, he made a significant impact.
A Real Betis academy graduate, Del Sol made more than 150 appearances for the Seville-based side before moving to Madrid. With Real, where he would play alongside the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, he won La Liga in each of his two seasons, in addition to one European Cup, one Intercontinental Cup and one Copa Del Generalisimo, which would come to be known as the Copa Del Rey (the Spanish equivalent of the Coppa Italia) in later years.
Upon his departure from Real in 1962, Del Sol became the first Spanish player in the history of Juventus. They benefited from his talents for eight years, in which he won Serie A and the Coppa Italia once each.
All 16 of his caps for Spain came between his time with Madrid and Juventus, with three international goals – the first of which was against England at Wembley – to show for them. The highlight of his Spain career was winning Euro 1964, the second ever edition of the tournament.
By the time Del Sol joined Roma in 1970, his international days were behind him. At the age of 35, some wrote him off, but Del Sol’s longevity and quality were enough for him to be a success.
After losing three key elements of their team to Juventus – Fabio Capello, Fausto Landini and Luciano Spinosi – the arrival of Del Sol in the opposite direction helped soften the blow.
Thanks to the experience he brought with him to Roma, he instantly became club captain. The role had previously been held by his compatriot Joaquin Peiro, who retired that summer.
Fellow midfielder Del Sol followed in Peiro’s footsteps and earned a regular place in the Roma lineup under Helenio Herrera. In his first season, he made 29 appearances in all competitions and scored four goals.
By the end of it, he even got to lift a trophy. Roma competed for the Trofeo Nazionale di Lega Armando Picchi that year, in memory of a former Inter player and Juventus coach who died at the age of 35 in May 1971.
Essentially a precursor to the Supercoppa Italiana, four teams took part in it: Inter, Juventus, Roma and Cagliari. The clubs faced off in a round-robin format, with Roma beating Cagliari, drawing with Juventus and losing to Inter. After finishing second in the standings, they played Inter again in the final, winning 1-0 thanks to Renato Cappellini’s goal. Del Sol played the full 90 minutes, inspiring his team to an honour.
In their main competitions, though, Roma’s form was a little more mixed. They came sixth in Serie A, albeit an improvement of four places on the preceding season, and only reached the quarter-finals (the first knockout round) of the Coppa Italia.
The subsequent season – Del Sol’s final with the club – followed a similar pattern. Roma came seventh in the league and lost in the first round of the Coppa Italia, but still earned one piece of silverware: the Anglo-Italian Cup.
After advancing from the group stage following a defeat and draw with Carlisle United and home-and-away wins against Stoke City, Roma played Blackpool in the final at Stadio Olimpico. On home turf, they earned a 3-1 triumph, thanks to goals from Cappellini, Francesco Scaratti and Gianfranco Zigoni.
However, Del Sol did not feature in that tournament, as his time with the club ended the previous month. There was no doubting that he had made a major contribution to the squad’s fortunes ahead of that competition, though.
Even between the ages of 36 and 37, he played regularly in his final season for Roma; others at the club compared his performance levels to those of a 20-year-old. He totalled 31 appearances in all competitions in 1971-72, but this time managed no goals.
Thus, his Roma career ended with a total of 60 appearances and four goals.
He wasn’t ready to call it quits just yet, though, and returned to Betis – whose training ground is named after him to this day – for one last swansong season before retiring.
Meanwhile, Roma only avoided relegation by goal difference in the season after his departure. It was perhaps an indication of how Del Sol had helped elevate their levels when he had been present.
Following the end of his playing career, Del Sol went on to become a coach. After some time working with their youth ranks, he took the first-team reins for Betis for the 1986-87 season, in which they finished eighth in the regular campaign, and returned for another stint in 2001. In between that, he spent a few months with Recreativo in 1990.
It was his playing career for which he would be mainly remembered, though. Roma can be grateful that they were a part of it.
Becoming a popular player during his time with the club, he and two teammates were honoured with a chant. The Roma fans would sing: “Ciccio Cordova, Amarildo, Del Sol; Ogni tiro è un gol!” Translated, it means that for those three attack-minded players, the former of whom succeeded Del Sol as captain, every shot was a goal.
Del Sol’s numbers may not give the impression that he was an out-and-out goalscorer, but in truth, that was not his role at that stage of his career. He was a complete midfielder, with strength and technique in equal measure. Nicknamed ‘the Postman’ by Di Stefano, he delivered passes all over the pitch and covered plenty of territory.
One of the best in his position in his prime and a multiple-time Ballon d’Or nominee, he may have come to Roma after that period of his career, but still oozed his quality, impressing with his professionalism and technical ability.
Del Sol described playing for Roma as “beautiful”, and those who shared those times with him would have used similar terminology in reference to his performances.
Rest in peace, Luis.