Sporting greats (3): Socrates

Brazil 82...look upon my works ye mighty and despair!

Now this is news, and sad news at that. Socrates, the captain of Brazil in the Spanish Mundial of 1982 has died, possibly of some sort of food poisoning. He was only 57.

The Knife loves the World Cup, even if it’s occasionally a bit of a letdown in reality, 2002 for example. The best one in my lifetime was 1982 (France v West Germany – best match ever?). I was in Spain just after it finished, and the remnants of it were everywhere. Brazil had played in Andalusia, where I was, and they’d made quite an impression.

As every football fan knows though, even though Brazil were great to watch – just try YouTube – the classic quarter final with Italy and the Paolo Rossi hat trick showed just how weak parts of the side were, despite Falcao scoring with the best dummy ever.

The main joy in watching them was the effortless exoticism of their play, and the sheer charisma of the midfield: Cerezo, Falcao, Eder (astonishing at times), and the great Socrates. Add in Junior at full back and, of course, Zico up front, you had half of the best team the world had seen. The problem was the rest of them were crap.

Anyway, Socrates was the captain, and imperturbably cool. Tall, slim, elegant and a stroller. Perfect short passing and terrific vision. A chain smoking doctor with a crazy name (his dad was a fan of the Greek philosopher).  As Pele said:

Socrates played better going backwards than most footballers going forward

There is a persuasive argument that France in the 1984 European Championship and in the 1998 World Cup were the best international sides of the last fifty years. Part of the mystique of Brazil ’82 is that they didn’t win, but we were very lucky to have seen that side at their peak. Socrates, we salute your memory.

Socrates scores!!!

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