Why Brazil Legend Socrates Is Football's Best Role Model
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Both are players who actively agitated for moves to their current clubs—who suggested in no uncertain terms that they would simply cease to perform if they were not allowed to join their dream teams. But, petulantly, they have found the grass is not necessarily greener in their dreams.
Today's footballers are coddled almost beyond belief. The gargantuan wages, the media worship, the overall baffling sense of entitlement—that could be understood, maybe, if players could possibly summon just a fraction of the charisma, style and gravitas, the personal integrity of someone like Socrates.
But then again, Socrates would never have thought, felt or acted like that.
Socrates, who died last year, captained the Brazilian National Team at World Cup 1982. That Brazil side, a team that embodied style and grace, remains the obsessively style-conscious country's best link to the mythical beautiful game.
The myth of Brazil's fantastical joga bonito largely started with the Pelé-led team that won World Cup 1970. Prototypical "Brazilian" football had been around for a while at that point—after all, it was Pele's third World Cup trophy; his early teammate Didi had coined the phrase joga bonita, the beautiful game, at World Cup 1958—but that particular team sealed an image of perfect football.
It's a legacy that still craves fulfillment. The current generation of Brazil players, from Neymar to Oscar to Pato, patently seek to fulfill the craving of a football-mad nation to return the national side to the kind of glory Pelé, Jairzinho and Gerson delivered in such inimitable style in 1970.
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Socrates understood this need. It was a need that far superseded glory or triumph. It was the relentless need for style.
Socrates delivered style to his national side lavishly. But what makes him the ideal football role model is his unique personality.
This simple thing is what marks Socrates out most strikingly in these days of characterless, assembly-line footballers—the fact that he even had a personality, and didn't hesitate to show it, is shamefully astonishing in these days of rent-a-quote stooges.
When Socrates captained his national side at the 1982 World Cup, Brazil was still in the grips of a military dictatorship. Socrates did more than most to overturn it, using his celebrity and influence to encourage the populace to vote the repressive regime down. Would Wayne Rooney take such a stand? Would anyone in world football today? It's depressingly hard to imagine.
Socrates, named after the Greek philosopher, was in med school when his football career took off. After his playing days were over, he returned to finish his degree and start a sports medicine clinic.
But what is even more striking about Socrates, and what makes him the sport's ultimate role model, is his enduring and incredibly thoughtful passion for the game. Alex Bellos interviewed Socrates for his excellent book Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, where the old legend weighed in illuminatingly on the ailments of Brazil's current game, and offered rare and frank insight into how modern football has gone astray, and how to bring it back to glory.
All who wear the yellow shirt of the seleçao, and indeed all who ever kick a football, should pay heed to the advice of the man called the Doctor.
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