Anyone passionate about football qua soccer will be saddened by the untimely passing away of Socrates, the Brazilian midfielder who captained Tele Santana’s legendary World Cup team of 1982. Socrates passed away on Sunday from septic shock at the age of 57 after a recent history of liver problems and gastrointestinal bleeding that required four hospitalizations in the past three months. The death of Socrates means that the sport has lost one of its most outspoken critics of pragmatic football that focuses on winning at the expense of artistry and the entertainment of fans. In Brazil, the passing away of Socrates means that opponents of Ricardo Teixeira’s tyrannical stewardship of the Confederation of Brazilian Football such as Romario have lost one of their more powerful advocates. Socrates was an ardent proponent of democracy in all facets of life and pushed for open elections for the title of the Presidency of the Confederation of Brazilian football, at one point going so far as to nominate his friend and former teammate Zico as an eligible successor to Teixeira.
Socrates is best known for captaining Brazil’s remarkable World Cup 1982 team in Spain. Contemporary football fans who have the privilege of viewing the Brazil World Cup team of 1982 will find it challenging to absorb the rhythm, tempo and formation of the Brazilian team because it resembles virtually no other team in the history of football. Coach Tele Santana played a 4-2-3-1 formation with Junior, Luizinho, Oscar and Leandro in defense, Falcao and Cerezzo deep in midfield, Eder, Zico and Socrates in attacking midfield and Serginho as the lone center forward and pure striker. Brazil fans who watched the Brazil v. Italy match of 1982 will painfully recall how Brazil did almost no defending in the match against Italy, choosing instead to try and win through ball possession, one touch passing, and streaming attacks on goal that defied any predictable formation or pattern. On one hand, Brazil 1982 represented a team marked by cohesion, collaboration and an attacking spirit taken to an extreme. On the other, the lynchpin of the team, the cog around which play revolved, was none other than Socrates playing in one of his finest hours.
Fans of Socrates will remember his blind, back-heel pass; the way he sauntered all over the field as if it belonged to him; how he instinctively knew which spaces teammates like Zico, Branco, Junior, Falcao, Cerezzo, Muller and Careca would fill with their runs forward; his ability to orchestrate attacks from both the right foot and the left; how he could feel and alter the pulse of a game like the doctor that he was; his calmness when things became rough; his spectacular goal against the USSR in World Cup 1982; his equalizer in 1982 against Italy from an absurdly narrow angle, setup by a Zico pass; his inspirational play against France in World Cup 1986, when Brazil chose not to play in midfield, but to attack ruthlessly on all fronts in the heat of the Guadalaraja sun against the likes of Michel Platini, Amoros and Tigana.
Fans will remember his outspoken criticism of Carlos Dunga and Mano Menezes for making Brazil play European football; his buoyant admiration for Paulo Henrique Ganso; his respect for Neymar; his youthful commitment to the Corinthians Democracy movement in the late 70s and early 80s that established a democratic approach to club management at Corinthians as a form of protest against increasing regimentation in Brazilian football and militaristic rule more generally; his degree in medicine; his love of alcohol and habit of smoking cigarettes; his 172 goals in 297 games for Corinthians; his 22 goals in 60 games for Brazil; and his lifelong commitment to freedom, creativity, democracy, football and art.
Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira: you redefined the meaning of a sports figure that became a global intellectual and political commentator. On the soccer field, no midfielder in the history of the game has been able to read the game like you. You were one of the greatest playmakers and creative midfielders in the history of football. Rest in peace. We will miss you.