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Socrates Dies

Keith Houchen

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I was 8 in 1982, it was my first World Cup. I'd heard the older boys talk about Brazil and this was the first time I'd seen them. Talk about an eye opener! Socrates was the most physically visual member of the team for me, plus he was a helluva player to boot!


Rest in peace, you hard drinking, chain smoking maverick renegade!

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Rest in peace, you hard drinking, chain smoking maverick renegade!

I couldn't put it better myself. Socrates was more than just a world class midfielder, he was an intellectual maverick. Listing his heroes as Che Guevara, John Lennon & Fidel Castro, he also helped start the Corninthians Democracy movement.


Not to mention the fact that he was an actual doctor, gaining his qualifications whilst playing football, and a political & economics writer.


A little known fact is that he played his last ever football game in England, for Garforth Town in 2004 at the age of 50.

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An article that I posted on another forum over a year ago, and I can't remember the source if anyone's wondering. A good read nonetheless;


If the organisers of the 2012 London Olympics think they have a tough task on their hands, they should spare a thought for the people of Brazil.


In the space of two years, the world's fifth largest country will play host to the next World Cup - in 2014 - and then its former capital Rio de Janeiro will become the first city in mainland South America to stage the Olympic Games, in 2016.


This double header will put the country in the international spotlight to an unprecedented degree, but with that opportunity comes a huge burden of responsibility to ensure that the two biggest sporting events on the planet are a success.


As a former Brazilian football captain, Socrates knows all about carrying the expectations of a nation - and in an exclusive interview he told BBC Sport it was an opportunity the country must seize with both hands.


"This is a big opportunity for the country to show what Brazil is really like - loads of people still think the capital is Buenos Aires," joked the 56-year-old, who captained his country at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.


"Brazil is like a new-born country because of the mixture of races and people - everyone who visits Brazil falls in love with the place, which is why we have such a mix. It also means we have a lot of creativity, but it is far from the ideal country that we could have. We could have better infrastructure, but it will come.


"Of course, the world will get to see our perfections and imperfections as a nation.


"We have to try to minimise them, and maybe some of the money to be spent on these two events might not go into the right hands.


"But it will be a good opportunity to invest in the infrastructure of the cities."


This may strike you as not being the sort of thing the average ex-footballer talks about. But then Socrates is not your average ex-footballer, in any way.


Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, to give him his full name, delayed the start of his international career until the age of 25 so he could complete his studies as a doctor.


When asked to name his heroes, rather than opting for Brazilian footballers such as Pele and Garrincha, he picked John Lennon and Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara - like Socrates, a trained doctor.


In his retirement, he has added a doctorate in philosophy and fathered six children, and he continues to practice medicine in the town of Ribeirao Preto in addition to being a commentator on both football and cultural issues. He is currently writing a novel.


The reason for his visit to London was to speak at an event organised as part of the South Bank Centre's London Literary Festival and Festival Brazil and in a wide-ranging discussion, he revealed to BBC Sport some of the attitudes that make Brazilian football and culture so distinctive.


"In Brazil, the way we live is not like Europe where you have your schedule for the whole year - we don't know what we are doing for the next 15 minutes," he said.


"If you are born a Brazilian, when you play abroad, it doesn't matter how long you stay away, this stays inside you."


The Brazil team captained by Socrates at the 1982 World Cup also featured the thrilling talent of players such as Zico and Eder, and will long be remembered as one of the greatest sides never to win the World Cup.


But this lack of success at the highest level seems genuinely not to concern Socrates, as other things are more important.


"To win is not the most important thing, football is an art and should be showing creativity," he said.


"If [painters] Vincent van Gogh and Edgar Degas had known when they were doing their work the level of recognition that they were going to have, they would not have done them the same. You have to enjoy doing the art and not think 'will I win?'".


He also rejected any sense of disappointment at Brazil's failure at this year's World Cup, saying that the approach of coach Dunga had been wrong from the start.


"Brazilians were not disappointed, they didn't expect to win," he said.


"Dunga's approach did not reflect what Brazilians are really like. There was not enough creativity."


Creativity and self-expression are clearly all-important to Socrates, which is why he is almost as well known for his political opinions and activism as for his football.


The two passions famously came together as part of the Corinthians Democracy movement in the mid-1980s, when towards the end of Brazil's military dictatorship, the Sao Paolo club became the only one in the world run on a democratic basis, as a symbol of rejection of the military regime.


"Everyone at the club had the same right to vote - the person who looked after the kit and the club president, all their votes had the same weight," he said.


"It brought a conscience to the people that you could vote and change things - it made people realise together with other movements that were happening in the country that you could make change."


And he says getting involved in politics was something he felt an obligation to do.


"People gave me power as a popular footballer," he said.


"If people don't have power to say things, then I can say it on their behalf. If I was on the other side, not the side of the people, there would not be anyone to listen to my opinions.


"The best thing that football gave me was the chance to get to know human beings. I got to meet people who suffered a lot and also those on the other side of society, who had everything, so I could see both sides of the society we live in.


"If I had stayed a doctor I would have stayed in just one area of society and only got to know one side of life.


"Nowadays people sell the idea to children that football can make you rich and famous - but that's all.


"It doesn't mean anything, the main thing is that you get to know both sides of life and to experience meeting people."


His unforgettable achievements on the pitch and his fascinating exploits off it ensure that to this day, Socrates remains one of the most memorable, fascinating and distinctive footballers of all time - and not just for his name.


"When I named one of my sons Fidel, my mother said 'that's a bit of a strong name to give a child'. 'Mother,' I said, 'look at what you did to me,' he joked.


Socrates - not your average ex-footballer, in any way.

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Sunday morning marked the passing of Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, better known simply as Socrates. The Brazilian midfielder was 57. He is survived by his wife and six sons. Sometimes greatness is measured through intangibles like leadership and personality, sometimes it is gauged through empirical achievement, like statistics and championships. Sometimes it's a combination of all those things. But Socrates stood on an even higher plane: Soccer will probably never again produce anyone like him.


The 1982 Brazilian team that he captained was perhaps the greatest never to win the World Cup (along with Hungary in 1954 and Holland in 1974). It was also one of the last Brazil teams to fully embody the romantic stereotype that comes to mind when we think of the green-and-gold. Sublime touches, languid pace, creativity ... the sheer joy of what they call "jogo bonito," or the beautiful game. Zico was probably the best player on that Brazil side, but Socrates was its philosophy made flesh.


At 6-foot-4 and rail-thin, he strolled through the midfield sporting his trademark beard and headband. He could have been Bill Walton's long lost Brazilian cousin. On the ball though, he was more Magic Johnson, thanks to his signature move, the no-look backheel pass. It's one of those things that isn't particularly hard to do, but is frightfully difficult to do well, mainly because you have to weight and execute a pass to a point on the pitch you can't actually see. Plus, rather than kicking the ball with your foot, where you at least have some level of sensitivity, you strike it with the bony part of your heel. When you see it these days, it's often a hit-and-hope move of last resort. For Socrates it was his bread and butter, something he nonchalantly pulled off in congested midfields, surprising not just his opponents, but often his teammates too, who would suddenly receive assists in mid-stride.


The backheel is not something any youth coach teaches. Nor is it something any pro coach particularly wants to encourage, precisely because it is so unpredictable. But in the carefree world of 1970s Brazilian soccer it had its place, especially when used as effectively as Socrates used it.


His r

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