Socrates Remembered

6 Dec

Socrates, the great Brazilian soccer maverick, has died at age 57. Those who saw him play were moved by his style. He glided over the grass, his intelligence working the angles, carving space, inspirational and beautiful. He was unlike the other midfield maestro of his era — Maradona. The Argentine was a short squat explosive; Socrates embodied elegance and poise, something special, the man with the golden heel. In the Beautiful Game, Socrates was the Beautiful Player.

Soccer was art to Socrates, it was never about winning and losing, “victory breeds conformity,” he said. He possessed contradiction, conflicted like so many great artists. He was a rarity amongst the soccer professional; an intellectual and writer, a qualified medical doctor, smoking packs of cigarettes each day during his playing years. His demon was the drink, so often the hemlock of the visionary. It helped kill him, and his reputation suffered, “They don’t want me to drink, smoke or think?” he said, “Well, I drink, smoke and think.” Off the field, he was an advocate for Brazilian democracy playing his part in the country’s democratic renaissance as it emerged from military rule.

His philosophical name was a perfect fit. He asked many questions of opponents and they rarely had an answer when he was in full flight. He captained Brazil in the 1982 World Cup Finals in Spain, now acknowledged as the best team never to win the tournament. Arguably, Brazil ’82 were the best Brazilian squad of all-time. He wished for Brazilian football to return to it golden era of flair and freedom. He had little patience for the modern game’s tactical methods, dull and bureaucratic, players hampered in confining roles. Socrates was a man who stood for freedom of expression, on and off the field. When will we see his likes again?

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