Thursday, February 25, 2010



Brazil's coolest footballer Socrates
From Nairaland

The daddy of bearded footballers was the legendary Socrates. He had that Che Guevara-thing going on and was the coolest dude ever. Second to him was Sergio Batista, who looked like he’d just stepped out of his cave, and what about the Motherland’s Bee Gees, Paul Breitner? But that was the great thing about beards in football back then — they were the real deal and not some fashion statement like they are now.

Socrates and Zico
Image from

The mesmeric 1982 Brazilian World Cup team are still regarded as one of the greatest national sides in history despite their failure to progress beyond the second group round. Memories of the majestic Socrates and Zico have not been tarnished simply because they did not lift the Jules Rimet trophy.
(Aimee Lewis at BBC)

Socrates full name is too big for brackets : Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira. He was a qualified medical Doctor, held a doctorate in philosophy and smoked and drank heavily. While also being Captain of the best football team on earth and one of the best midfielders in the world. On the pitch, he tottered about like some Sunday morning park footballer, but his reading of the game was unerring, and his touch was always graceful, his decsion-making seldom wrong. He was particularly famed for his regular back-heels, which were always casual and yet always precise. He also cropped up occasionally with a crucial goal.

Botafogo 1974/1975

Back-heel pass
Corinthians, Sao Paulo

Socrates playing for his beloved Corinthians
From The Grand Inquisitor

As one of the best midfielders in football history, Sócrates played for, and captained Brazil in the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cups. He began playing football professionally in 1974 for Botafogo in his hometown of Riberão Preto, but spent the majority of his career (1978 to 1984) with Corinthians in Sao Paulo, where he became famous for using football to challenge the existing military dictatorship. He was capped sixty times for Brazil between May 1979 and June 1986. Sócrates also played for the Italian club Fiorentina and the Brazilian clubs Flamengo and Santos towards the end of his career. In 2004, more than a decade after retiring, Sócrates agreed a one month player-coaching deal with ICFDS owned club Garforth Town Football Club. His brother Rai won the World Cup in 1994 and played for São Paulo and for Paris St. Germain.
(International Confederation of Futebol de Salão)

He was never a teenage star and didn’t make his debut in the Brazilian national team until he was 25. He was blessed with wonderful skills, vision and seemed to have so many options when he was on the ball. He was able to play the ball wherever and whenever he wanted. His heel-kicks became famous world wide. These rare skills combined with the fact that he was a medical student more than justified him being nicknamed “the doctor”.
Socrates was not an ordinary athlete, infact he didn’t look at himself as an athlete. He smoked a pack of sigarettes every day, and that was one of the reasons to why he never settled in Italy when he arrived there in 1984 to play for Fiorentina. The lifestyle didn’t suit him and he went back to Brazil a year later.
(Planet World Cup)
Socrates played with an elegance that could have been groomed nowhere other than Brazil. Pele said he played better backwards than most players could going forward. And in 1982 Socrates was the leader of the last Selecao team to try and win the World Cup according to the philosophy of Pele's bonito jogo. Brazil failed, but in doing so Socrates and his teammates became romantic figures in the history of the tournament, committed to a pure ideal of how the game should be played that was seemingly lost forever.
Socrates made two memorable contributions to the campaign. In Brazil's opening group match against the Soviet Union, he ghosted past two defenders to fire in a long-range effort that set his side on course for a come-from-behind 2-1 win. And against Italy in the second round, he grabbed his second goal of the tournament, drifting through to the goal line before beating Dino Zoff from a seemingly impossible angle.
But the game against Italy was to mark the final victory for European pragmatism over South American flair. Despite the panache of Socrates and his teammates, resilient defending kept them to two goals. Meanwhile Paolo Rossi was exploiting Brazil's defensive limitations, scoring all the goals Italy's 3-2 win.
By 1986, Brazil was in transition toward the more conservative style that would finally earn it another world title in 1994. But Socrates was still the same player, and he raised his game to help Brazil reach the quarterfinals, scoring against Spain and Poland.
Yet the classic showdown with France ended miserably for Brazil's most talented player. Socrates missed an open goal in the dying seconds of extra time and then failed from the spot as Brazil lost on penalties.

Socrates and team mates Wladimir and Walter Casagrande formed Corinthians Democracy, a players movement within the club that rebelled against the suffocating paternalistic culture prevalent in Brazilian soccer which dictated not only how they played but how they lived their lives. A phenomenon Alex Bellos calls concentrecao or loosely translated "bring together the troops", a microcosm of the authoritarian nature of the military regimes that subjugated the citizenry. The movement was a democratic exercise where players voted on simple daily tasks that affected them like when to take lunch or what time to turn in. 'We decided everything by consensus,' says Sócrates.
But it was not just simple decisions that made Corinthians Democracy a byword in Brazilian soccer history, it was its political role in actively bringing down the military dictatorship. Players voted to wear shirts with 'Vote on the Fifteenth' written on them and bringing huge "Democracia" banners to the pitch. As a sports icon Socrates was very aware that players like him could play a seminal role in arousing the masses to direct action. A very well read man (he was also a medical doctor), Socrates used anarcho-syndicalistic principles which first organized workers rights in the latter part of the nineteenth century. He says thus:
"The process that we went through (Corinthians Democracy) was extremely rich. We were working in a really popular environment ... and we managed to develop a form of action that generated a series of polemics ... in relation to the structure of employers and employees.
In 1982 and 1983, Corinthians won the Paulista championship beating Sao Paulo. During those years, the last military dictator Jose Figueirado, declared that he was committed to opening up Brazil to democracy but government hardliners responded with a series of bombings. Figueirado's failure to bring the guilty to justice coupled with rising inflation, stagnating wages, and increasing debt led to the public's determination to see the end of military rule. In 1984 in an impressive display, millions of Brazilians took to the streets in all the major cities demanding a direct vote (diretas já! ) in the choice of the next president. In 1985, military rule finally ended with Jose Sarney, a civilian and a former ally of Figueirado coming to power. During those tumultuous last years, Lula, as one of the leaders of the Workers Party was at the forefront of the diretas ja! movement, imprisoned for organizing massive workers strikes protesting the pitiful wages.
So when in 2002 Lula finally became the president, millions of working class Brazilians rejoiced to see one of their own elected. The former shoeshine boy was one of them. In addition, he was a Corinthians supporter, who liked nothing better than relaxing with his friends and colleagues playing the beautiful game. Ironically, in soccer mad Brazil, Lula is an exception, a leader, the first in three decades with a genuine love for the game. So it was befitting that his first Presidential act was to take on the cartolas, the corrupt club establishments.
Bellos explains:
"The sport is run by a network of unaccountable, largely corrupt figures known as cartolas, or "top hats", who have become obscenely wealthy while the domestic football scene is broke and demoralised. The public plundering of football is a constant and very visible reminder of the country's failings." Joao Havelange, the former CBF and FIFA president is one of the major beneficiaries of this system.
In 1998, following the embarrassing defeat of the Brazilian team to France in the World Cup final, a series of investigations into the dealings of the cartolas was launched. A temporary law was passed which demanded greater financial accountability. With Lula in power the fire and brimstone Law of Moralisation in Sport became permanent. In place too was a bill of rights for soccer fans. The bill contained an important statute which mandated that the CBF (the Brazilian FA) would hold at least one national competition in which "teams know before it begins how many games they will play and who their opponents will be." As banal as it appears to be, this statute addressed the hitherto arbitrary nature of the Brazilian domestic league. The cartolas in cahoots with the military dictators used the league to serve their narrow economic and political ends by changing relegation rules every season to keep favoured teams on top.
Lula was quick to realize that all through Brazil's democratization, the cartolas themselves had not reformed, and with these populist measures, used the public dissatisfaction with these cartolas to cement his place in the heart of the ordinary soccer fan. In Brazil where soccer is life itself, Garrastazu Medici, the military dictator, used the euphoria surrounding the 1970s World Cup win, to push the most repressive of measures.
Of course, the CBF and their acolytes, the cartolas fought back immediately announcing a suspension of the league. But Corinthians, on whose board Lula sits as a lifetime director, supported his reform measures. With Corinthians and Lula standing firm, the threat collapsed within 48 hours and the league resumed its matches. The cartolas were defeated and their pernicious influence on the game shaken. The last authoritarian structure in Brazil was given notice by Lula and the Corinthians.

Socrates with Simon Clifford (right)


When it was announced that the legendary, 50 year old Brazilian, Socrates, was about to sign for Garforth Town in 2004, the words 'elaborate' and 'hoax' were on most people's lips. How could this classic Brazilian playmaker, captain of the great Brazilian side from the 1982 World Cup, wash up in West Yorkshire playing football at the 10th rung of the competitive ladder in England? A man whose club experience included Flamengo, Botafogo and Fiorentina, and the owner of 63 Brazil caps. The answer was through Garforth's owner, Simon Clifford. Clifford oversees an empire of football schools based on Brazilian coaching techniques. Through his business interests they became friends, hence the invitation. Socrates made his debut for Garforth against Tadcaster United in November 2004. A crowd of 1,300 turned up, Garforth's biggest for 40 years. He'd warmed up for his non-league debut in the traditional manner, a personal appearance at Sheffield's Meadowhall Shopping Centre, before wrapping himself against the elements on the bench. He played 12 minutes as a substitute and clearly enjoyed himself commenting "It was far too cold. The second I got out I had this incredible headache, I'm just not used to it". Still, a great day was had by all and Socrates left the ground to chants of "We love you Socrates, we do". Which is something you probably don't hear every day in Yorkshire mining villages.

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