Obituary: Socrates

With an unwavering fondness for cigarettes and alcohol, the lifestyle of Brazilian football legend Socrates would probably be met with a disapproving eye from many managers in the modern game.

But then again they just might cut a little slack to the larger-than-life midfield maestro, who died aged 57 on Sunday.

For Socrates, with his almost-telepathic vision and ability to unlock a defence with either foot, is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.

Throw in his stylish Bjorn Borg-style headband and beard combos, the man born as Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira became the symbol of cool for a whole generation of football supporters.

But then Socrates was never a stereotypical footballer.

The best thing that football gave me was the chance to get to know human beings

Former Brazil captain Socrates

With philosophical views as strong as his famous Classical Greek namesake, he was never unduly worried about expressing his opinion and became almost as well-known for his political opinions and activism as for his football.

The two passions famously came together as part of the Corinthians Democracy movement in the mid-1980s, when towards the end of Brazil's military dictatorship, the Sao Paulo club became the only one in the world run on a democratic basis, as a symbol of rejection of the military regime.

Most Brazilian footballers of his age were likely to have named predecessors such as Pele or Garrincha as their idols. Not so Socrates.

His heroes included Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, the men who led the Cuban revolution of the 1950s, and ex-Beatle and anti-war protestor John Lennon.

Like the trio mentioned, Socrates felt getting involved in politics was something he felt an obligation to do.

"People gave me power as a popular footballer," he told the BBC in July 2010.

"If people don't have power to say things, then I can say it on their behalf. If I was on the other side, not the side of the people, there would not be anyone to listen to my opinions.

SOCRATES FACTFILE

  • Born on 19 February 1954 in Belem do Para, Brazil
  • Rated as one of the greatest midfielders of all-time
  • At 6ft 4in tall he was known for his physical strength, as well as two-footed vision and skill
  • Played for Botafogo and Corinthians in Brazil before a one-season spell at Fiorentina
  • Saw out his career with Flamengo and Santos before retiring in 1989 aged 35
  • In 2004 aged 50, Socrates made an appearance as sub for Garforth Town in the Northern Counties League after a one-off deal to become player-coach
  • Died on 4 December 2011 in Sao Paolo, Brazil

"The best thing that football gave me was the chance to get to know human beings. I got to meet people who suffered a lot and also those on the other side of society, who had everything, so I could see both sides of the society we live in."

However, he came face-to-face with most of the suffering people in his own surgery.

The qualified doctor, who refused to play football professionally until he completed his studies aged 25, practised medicine in the Brazilian town of Ribeirao Preto when he hung up his boots in 1989.

On the pitch he was the heartbeat of Brazil's national side in his early 1980s prime, but agonisingly saw his dreams of becoming the fourth Brazilian captain to lift the World Cup burnt out in the 1982 tournament.

The competition was meant to mark arrival of the flamboyant Samba stars, led by their swashbuckling captain, back at the top table of world football.

Brazil cruised through the first group stage with an attacking swagger, beating Scotland 4-1 in one match , and then battered fierce South American rivals Argentina, the defending champions, in a landmark 3-1 victory.

But they crashed out with a 3-2 defeat against eventual champions Italy, despite a stunning goal from Socrates.

Things did not improve for Socrates four years later as he missed a penalty in their quarter-final shoot-out defeat by France.

However, his laid-back attitude to life, which was reflected in his effortless style of play, had already endeared him to millions of supporters, not just in Brazil but across the world.

"When I named one of my sons Fidel, my mother said 'that's a bit of a strong name to give a child'. 'Mother,' I said, 'look at what you did to me'," he joked before his death.

Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira certainly made a name for himself.

Socrates scores stunners at World Cup 1982 (UK users only)