In the 92-year history of the FIFA World Cup, only six coaches have led three or more different teams in at least three editions of the competition. The leader in this category is Brazil’s Carlos Alberto Parreira, who is the only coach to be present at six different editions, leading Kuwait, Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and South America.
Soon, when the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off, a new name will be added to this list, writing history on the biggest of stages. Luis Fernando Suárez is poised to take part at the third edition of the competition, when he leads Costa Rica, lining up in one of the toughest groups at Qatar 2022, facing Spain, Germany and Japan.
Yet Suárez is not deterred of the challenge. Instead, he embraces it, seeing it as a dream came true, after having previously taken part with Ecuador, at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and with Honduras eight years later.
“The word I’ve used most in all these interviews over the last few days is ‘obsession’, a word that’s sometimes frowned upon. I don’t see it like that. There are good obsessions. And my third World Cup is an obsession for me,” said Suárez for FIFA+.
“When I was in the first division, I didn’t even know what it was. When I went and saw everything and did well, the only thing I wanted to do was go back. So, when the Costa Rica job came up, I said to myself: ‘I’ve got to go for it. I’ll die if I don’t qualify.’ That’s where I am right now: halfway between death and obsession. I hope obsession wins out.”
Yet Suárez is neither a household name in South American football or in Central America. Costa Rica are the 15th team in his career, one that has spanned since 1999 in home country Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Honduras, Mexico and now Costa Rica.
But Suárez really worked wonders since he was appointed the team’s coach in June 2021. The first step was winning veterans like Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell or Celso Borges, four of the six players that have represented Costa Rica both in 2014 and in 2018 at the FIFA World Cup.
Since his appointment, he won 14 of the 24 games he led Costa Rica in, drawing other five and losing five, for an excellent 58.33% winning efficiency. In the last 14 matches, Costa Rica scored 13 goals, but conceded even less. In 2022, the goal difference in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Costa Rica read 8:1 over seven matches, with the team winning six of those seven games and drawing the other one.
The decisive one was the intercontinental play-off against New Zealand, which Costa Rica clinched in Qatar with Campbell’s goal scored in the third minute. Their usual efficient defence was excellent and prevented a comeback.
And Suárez’s challenge was completed.
On 1 April, when the draw for the group phase of the 2022 FIFA World Cup was made, the Colombian coach hanged a note on his fridge, with the three names of the opponents which Costa Rica would face if they qualified for the competition – Germany, Spain and Japan.
“I drink a lot of water so I’m always going to the fridge and looking at that note. It’s never far from my mind,” said Suárez for FIFA+.
That simple peace of paper was not just a reminder of the task at hand, but also served as a huge motivation. It was 23 years ago when Suárez won his only trophy, the Colombian league, with Atletico Nacional, in his first season as a manager.
But since then, wandering throughout all South and Central America, Suárez failed to replicate the performance. Sure, it might have taken him years to really focus on things and nurture the positive obsession for the FIFA World Cup.
It took him four years after leaving Ecuador to take up the Honduras job. For Costa Rica, it was a seven-year wait. Yet for Suárez, everything fell into place just as the right time. And just like that, he writes history in becoming only the seventh coach at the FIFA World Cup to feature for three different teams in three different editions.