Retirement. One of the most beloved and admired players of the 1980s Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira played his last games this year.
Born on February 19th, 1954 in Belem, Para state, Socrates debuted in 1973 Botafogo (Ribeirao Preto, Sao Paulo state).
He played for his home team – his middle class family moved to this city because of his father work and Socrates grew up there – for 5 years, somewhat repeating the fate of Ademir da Guia of Palmeiras, with whom he is pictured here: admired at home, but unable to get national, not to speak of international, fame for some time. Socrates really got noticed around 1978. During his early years the tall striker made quite an unusual move for a player – he started and eventually completed University studies in Ribeirao Preto, getting medical degree. For Botafogo he played 99 games in 5 years, scoring 35 goals, entertaining the local crowd with his trademark back-heel passes, even scoring penalties this way. Botafogo he never forgot.
In 1978 Socrates moved to Corinthians, finally becoming a true star. In 4 years he played 135 games for Corinthians and scored 74 goals. He debuted in the Brazilian national team in 1979, repeating to a point the case of his friend Zico, who also debuted for Brazil rather late. But it was not just the dazzling football which made Socrates a star – his influence and opinions went outside the football pitch:
His political views and involvement made a history not just for Corinthians – his stand against military dictatorship forced his club to play with political adds on the team shirts: ‘Democracy’ and ‘cast your vote on 15th ‘. At that time Socrates also moved back from center-forward and number 9 to playmaker and number 8.
To a point, Socrates was already an anomaly – 192 cm tall, but thin as a rail, he was not perfect for center-forward position in times when burly defenders played rough physical game. His height was even more unusual for playmaking midfielder, so he played somewhat a mix of a straiker and playmaker. Not very fast and largely preferring slow tempo, he had great acceleration, somewhat reminding Cruijff, who was also fragile-looking player with no great speed, but explosive acceleration. Already established key player of wonderful Brazil of 1982, Socrates was destined to go to Europe, as all South American stars were eager to do.
In 1984 Socrates donned the jersey of Italian Fiorentina. But he stayed in Europe just one season, playing 26 games and scoring 6 goals for his new club. 30-years old by now – going to Europe a bit late, like Zico – it was not his age which made his European career short: it was mostly his character. Independent, not much concerned with money, loving Brazilian life too much and not really liking to train, Socrates disliked cold and demanding European professional football and quickly returned home.
Now he joined the most popular Brazilian club, Flamengo.
Should have been the perfect choice from a political point of view: the left-leaning Socrates playing for the people’s club, for the club of the poor.
And also playing together with his friend Zico should have been magical and personally satisfying. But… age and lifestyle were taking their tall. Zico was also getting old and the pairing of the two was perhaps not very well thought move: they somewhat duplicated each other and were not always effective together because of similarity of position. Socrates played only 12 games for Flamengo, scoring measly 3 goals, and in 1988 he was no longer part of the club.
Next stop – Santos, the club of Pele. It was like Socrates paying homage to Brazilian icons – Flamengo, Santos – but it was gradual going home… The season with Santos was not bad – in 1988-89 the aging star played 25 games and scored 7 goals. But ‘aging’ was the key word now… Socrates was no longer the same.
In 1989 he moved to Botafogo (Ribeirao Preto) and after 6 games called it quit. Thus he made full circle, finishing his career exactly where he started it. After 303 official games and 125 goals Socrates stepped down.
For Brazil Socrates stopped playing in 1986 – after the World Cup fiasco, when it was decided that the old stars had to be replaced by new team.
Socrates debuted for Brazil when he was 25-years old in 1979 and ended his national team duties in 1986, when he was 32-years old.
Along with Zico, they were the face of the wonderful Brazil built by Tele Santana.
It was playing for Brazil Socrates became a darling for millions around the globe – elegant, highly technical, graceful, imaginative, always a gentleman on the field, Socrates returned to the fans what was rapidly disappearing in the 1980s: the sheer pleasure of watching football. Alas, the wonderful Brazil and Socrates did not win a World Cup… and in a time increasingly recognizing only success, Socrates became also a symbol of failure somewhat: what good is dazzling play, if you lose? Still, he played a total of 60 games for Brazil and scored 22 goals.
Winner of loser, Socrates – or Dr. Socrates as he was often called – had a charm appealing the fans, even those who subscribed to the cold philosophy of winning no matter how – Socrates was somewhat a player of the gone romantic past: a nice guy, intellectual and bohemian, who disliked training and loving holding court in the neighbourhood pub with glass of beer in one hand and cigarette in the other. He was accessible, humbly, good companion, interesting to meet and chat with, egalitarian, and when stepped on the pitch – highly entertaining. Teammates and fans liked him, listened to him, and respected him. Coaches liked him and listened to him, putting benevolent bling eye to his missed practices, skipping demanding physical exercises, drinking and chain smoking. Club officials get along and respected Socrates and also put a bling eye to his unprofessional lifestyle. Socrates did not hide his preferences – he was honest and open about it: ‘take me as I am, for I am not changing’. His career had no major scandals – doing what he likes in times demanding Spartan professionalism, he was never involved in scandals like those hunting George Best and Diego Maradona. Yet, his lifestyle affected his career – for a big international star, Socrates played only 302 games in 16 years. Considering that he played mostly in Brazil, where even lesser players appear about 40 times in a year, Socrates’ numbers are small… then again, it is hard to tell what counts for official games in Brazil.
Socrates retired and his life continued in the way he liked best: largely in the pub, chatting with ordinary people. Yet, he was Socrates, not just another faded old star recalling nostalgia when drinking himself to death with nothing better to do. Socrates truly became Dr. Socretas, practicing medicine as family doctor. Well, most of the time he did that, but also did not abandon football. Coaching was not his forte – perhaps because coaching presenting problems similar to that he had as a player: training and discipline. He tried coaching three times: Botafogo (Ribeirao Preto) in 1994, LDU (Quito, Ecuador) in 1996, and lastly one more small Brazilian club – Cabofriense – in 1999, but it was sporadic activity and is hard to tell was he incapable coach, or just disinterested in the profession, taking it sometimes in whim, but not really wanting to make a career. Coaching, seemingly was like playing for him – mostly love of football, but not to be taken all that seriously. He, however, take much more regularly journalism – both in writing and on radio and TV. To be a commentator was more satisfying to his intellectual nature and he wrote column on politics and economics as well as on football. With time Dr. Socrates became largely a neighbourhood sage figure – mostly to be found in the cafe ready to chat. His bohemian nature made his retirement a statistical joke, for he added one more game to his record and that far away from Brazil:
In 2004 Socrates came back and in lucrative England at that.
He was contracted for 1 match as player-coach of semi-professional Garforth Town – and came on the pitch as a substitute for 15 minutes. It was rather pathetic appearance, but still a mockery of his retirement and statistical havoc as well: which year should be considered for his last – 1989 or 2004? And 12 minutes count as official game, so at the age of 50 Socrates completed his official record to 303 games total. But if playing – or sitting on his ass – 12 minutes in a non-league semiprofessional club in England counts, then why not beach football or whatever games Socrates was involved with even before 1989? Let statisticians worry about that – Socrates was too well loved by anybody else, so we can forgive him anything. His moments with Garforth Town were instantly memorable – what a thrill to see him with their jersey! The charming power of ‘anti-athlete’, as he honestly called himself. Fans easily forgive Socrates that his less talented brother Rai actually brought real success to Brazil and oveall had more lucrative career – Dr. Socrates gave us pleasure, one of the few artists of the game after the end of the 1970s.