Ask a football purist for a list of the all-time greatest footballers and Socrates’ name is always mentioned. He was the orchestrator of that great 1982 World Cup Brazilian side, which is widely considered as the best team never to have won a World Cup. Johan Cruyff et al (Holland 1974 &1978) would no doubt contest that statement.
If Socrates’ game lacked pace, it contained an abundance of vision, elegance and technical brilliance. Socrates’ main aim was to entertain. He once said, “To win is not the important thing. Football is an art and should be showing creativity. You have to enjoy doing the art and not think, ‘will I win?’”.
There were numerous ironies to the charismatic Socrates’ life. He was a qualified doctor, yet he was fond of a smoke and a drink, even as a player. His childhood heroes were Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and John Lennon. He was also an outspoken political activist, particularly against the Brazilian military junta during the 1970s and 1980s.
Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Sousa Vieira de Oliveira was born on 19th February 1954 in Belem, Brazil. In 1974 he made his professional debut for Botafogo. Four years later, he joined Corinthians where he scored 172 goals in 297 games – not bad for an attacking midfielder. In 1979 he made his debut for the Brazilian national team where he would accumulate 60 caps and score 22 goals.
In 1984, Socrates ventured to Europe where he only lasted one season. “The way of life is so correct and organised in Europe. It’s not like that in Brazil, where things are more spontaneous. I was in Florence for a year with Fiorentina and sometimes I didn’t want to train, but to hang out with friends, party or have a smoke. There’s more to life than football.”
He returned to Brazil playing for Flamengo and Santos before hanging up his boots in 1989. Curiously, he briefly came out of retirement in 2004 to make a 10 minute cameo appearance for English non-league club Garford Town, where he was contracted as player / coach for one month.
In August this year, Socrates was admitted to intensive care in a Sao Paulo hospital with food poisoning which later developed into septic shock of the intestine, leaving him on a life support machine. He passed away on 4th December 2011. He is survived by his wife and six children.
The legendary Zico, his team-mate at the 1982 World Cup, said “He was a great guy. As a player he was one of the best. I had the privilege of being his friend. Our children are friends. He had unusual intelligence. You always expect something good from him.’
His former club Corinthians summed up the mood on their website, “Thank you, Doctor”.
The Brazilian president said that Brazil had lost “one of its most cherished sons”. “On the field, with his talent and sophisticated touches, he was a genius. Off the field, he was politically active, concerned with his people and country.”