Tuesday 24 October 2017

Socrates: A true exponent of the beautiful game

Tim Rich

NOW the sight of him would horrify most Premier League managers. He drank, he smoked, he had opinions and, worse, they were left-wing opinions.

Alex Ferguson, a very different kind of socialist, insists that the manager must always be the most important factor in a football club. Socrates' vision was of a club run by its players.

He was what Keith Richards would have been had he fallen in love with the 1953 Hungarians rather than Chuck Berry, although Socrates' drink of choice was beer rather than Jack Daniels.

Like George Best, he never properly acknowledged that alcohol was killing him until it was too late. As a footballer he practised what he preached; as a doctor, he did not.

It is perhaps just as well that Socrates believed that it was how, rather than whether, you won that mattered because he is the central figure in one of the most gloriously spectacular failures of any World Cup. Like Hungary in 1954 and the Netherlands 20 years later, the 1982 World Cup should have been Brazilian.

Ever since Pele uttered the phrase "o jogo bonito" -- just about the only memorable thing Pele has ever said -- there is a myth that Brazilian football has always been about 'the beautiful game'. The sides that lifted the World Cup in 1994 and 2002 were functional and almost Germanic in their relentlessness.

The boys of '82, the side that the tall medical student from Ribeirao Preto captained, was the only one that was truly beautiful, the only one that stepped from the shadows cast by the team of 1970.

Alan Hansen thought them the finest side he had ever played against. Scotland were good enough to leave Kenny Dalglish on the bench and took the lead through a goal from David Narey that looked as if it was fashioned in Brasilia, rather than Dundee.

Retribution was swift. With every flick, spin and Socrates' trademark back-heel, Scotland died a little more. It finished 4-1.

Hungary and the Netherlands at least reached the final. Brazil did not make the semis. Their 3-2 defeat by Italy is one of the great World Cup encounters and Socrates' strike is one of the great World Cup goals. He plays the ball to Falcao, who with one flick leaves Claudio Gentile floundering with the delayed reactions of a cartoon character. He feeds Socrates, who is facing Dino Zoff at an improbably tight angle. The shot cracks into the net.

The team of 1982 is often compared to the 1970 side in terms of the way they performed but there is one critical difference.

The boys of 1970 were the subject of rigid discipline and preparation. Brazil was under a fascist government that wanted a World Cup to promote itself every bit as badly as the Argentinian junta did in '78. Their training camp had security guards, dogs and searchlights; their fitness programme was based on the NASA regime that had sent men to the moon.

Twelve years later, the military was still in power but under Tele Santana and Socrates, the training regimes were relaxed affairs and perhaps the reduction of discipline cost them.

In their 3-2 quarter-final defeat to Italy, Brazil's defensive slackness is, nearly 30 years on, jaw-dropping. They fell behind in three of their five games and this time they could not make up the deficit.


Four years later, manager Santana and Socrates would try again. This time they reached the quarter-finals on a succession of clean sheets but the great midfield was worn down by injury and the magic was missing.

Socrates' finest moment came in 1982, not by lifting the World Cup, but by captaining Corinthians to the title. He had forced the club to become virtually a workers' co-operative, with decisions taken by a players' vote. Their shirts had no sponsors, just the world "Democracy" on their backs.

He lived in Ribeirao Preto, a region that, in all sorts of ways, is the nearest Brazil comes to California, and the people that attracted him were on the planet's wilder shores. He named his son after Fidel Castro and was entertained in the Libyan desert by Colonel Gaddafi, who suggested he run for the Brazilian presidency.

He only played twice for clubs outside Brazil, for Fiorentina, which was handy for the Uffizi Gallery, and for Garforth Town, which was handy for Hartshead Moor Service Station.

He was 50 when he turned out for the Yorkshire club, who sold 3,000 tickets for a game against Tadcaster Albion. Socrates spent most of the match on the bench, with a woolly hat, overcoat and scarf before coming on and producing a 20-yard shot.

It was like being in a graffiti-strewn underpass and hearing a busker play Mozart from memory. (© Independent News Service)

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