Socrates: Footballer who led one of Brazil's greatest sides


The charismatic Brazilian giant Socrates, a legendary figure of sporting cool in the 1980s, when he enjoyed his regal pomp and his colourful personality was showcased in successive World Cup tournaments, was a footballing force of nature. Hailed in some quarters as one of the finest players of all time, he was a visionary midfield general who could slice apart the most clamlike of defences with his incisive, imaginative passing. He was equally revered for his swashbuckling yet somehow relaxed style, the sudden savage strikes on goal with either foot vying for attention with his delicious trademark backheel flicks and his piratical appearance, usually complete with beard, headband and flowing locks.

As befitted a man named Socrates, he was a noted intellectual, too, an eloquent espouser of left-wing causes, and a doctor of medicine and philosophy. Then there was his much-merited reputation as a bon viveur – he was a famously heavy smoker and admitted to having had problems with alcohol, which he described as his "companion", though he maintained that it never limited his effectiveness on the pitch.

Socrates began his professional career with the Botafogo club, based in the Brazilian town of Ribeirao Preto, serving them for four years from 1974. During that period he worked for his medical qualifications and although he was clearly endowed with colossal football talent, so determined was he not to compromise his studies that it was not until 1979, a season after he had moved to the Sao Paulo-based Corinthians club and having passed his 25th birthday, that he made himself available for his country.

Politics, and the lot of ordinaryworking people, had always been of immense importance to Socrates, whose early heroes were Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and John Lennon. Thus Corinthians, which had grown out of the pro-democracy movement, had been founded largely by immigrant labourers and had opposed the military dictatorship which ruled Brazil during much of his youth, was always an institution dear to his heart.

That year he made the first of 60 appearances for Brazil, which he adorned with 22 goals, and moved swiftly into his prime. In his 297 games for Corinthians he scored 172 times, but it was for his expansive displays in the yellow shirt of Brazil that Socrates earned global renown.

Captaining a fabulous team which included the likes of Zico, Falcao and Cerezo, he shone brightest of allduring the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, but after captivating audiences with sumptuous displays against the Soviet Union, Scotland, New Zealand and, especially, Argentina, the Brazilians succumbed unexpectedly to the ultimate champions, Italy. Supporters of that Brazil side, one of the mostbrilliant not to win the World Cup, were dismayed at their ejection, particularly bemoaning the absence from the last four of Socrates, whose combination of skill, intelligence and power hadcultivated a devoted following in virtually every country in which the game was played.

Come the 1986 tournament in Mexico, by now not quite such a seductive force but still wildly popular, Brazil again failed narrowly to reach the semis, this time bowing out to France in a penalty shoot-out, with Socrates missing the first spot-kick. This was cruelly ironic as fans loved his seemingly casual stop-start method of addressing the ball, but on this occasion he miscalculated and was foiled easily by the French goalkeeper Joel Bats.

That year his international career ended, but he remained effective at club level. In 1984 he had joined Fiorentina, though he never settled in Italy, rebelling against what he saw as undue regimentation and preferring the freer lifestyle of his homeland, to which he returned after only one season. In 1986 he enlisted with Flamengo, then joined Santos in 1988, but by then he had reached the veteran stage and he laid aside his boots in 1989 at the age of 35.

However, Socrates, whose honours included a place in Brazil's Hall of Fame and being voted South American Footballer of the Year in 1983, had not finished with the game. In 2004, somewhat bizarrely, he accepted a month-long assignment as player-coach of Garforth Town of the Northern Counties East League in England. He was 50 and made only one appearance in a game, for 12 minutes as a substitute against Tadcaster Albion, before returning to Brazil. Later he explained that Yorkshire had been a little cold for him, but added that he'd had tremendous fun.

For some years after leaving the professional game, Socrates – whose brother, Rai, was part of the Brazil squad which lifted the World Cup in 1994 – practised medicine in Ribeirao Preto, later becoming a philosopher and a television football pundit. He died of complications following food poisoning.

His judgement was sound, too. Once asked for his views on the English game, he replied: "English football? I think of Paul Scholes. He's good enough to play for Brazil. I love to watch Scholes, to see him pass, the boy with the red hair in the red shirt." Coming from such a fêted fellow midfielder, this was not the least of the many honours collected by Manchester's finest.

Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, footballer and physician: born Belem do Para, Brazil 19 February 1954; played for Botafogo 1974-78, Corinthians 1978-84, Fiorentina 1984-85, Flamengo 1986-87, Santos 1988-89; capped 60 times by Brazil 1979-86; married (six children); died Sao Paulo, Brazil 4 December 2011.

Actor Burt Reynolds last year
peopleBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books'It's a simple, sweet and charming tale; it’s very heartfelt'
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game