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The wisdom of Socrates

Socrates and Zico celebrate a goal for Brazil at the 1986 World Cup
Socrates and Zico were among Brazil's biggest stars of the 1980s

By Julian Shea

If the organisers of the 2012 London Olympics think they have a tough task on their hands, they should spare a thought for the people of Brazil.

In the space of two years, the world's fifth largest country will play host to the next World Cup - in 2014 - and then its former capital Rio de Janeiro will become the first city in mainland South America to stage the Olympic Games, in 2016.

This double header will put the country in the international spotlight to an unprecedented degree, but with that opportunity comes a huge burden of responsibility to ensure that the two biggest sporting events on the planet are a success.

As a former Brazilian football captain, Socrates knows all about carrying the expectations of a nation - and in an exclusive interview he told BBC Sport it was an opportunity the country must seize with both hands.

Former Brazil captain Socrates - photo copyright Patrick Smith
Socrates is now a commentator on both football and Brazilian society

"This is a big opportunity for the country to show what Brazil is really like - loads of people still think the capital is Buenos Aires," joked the 56-year-old, who captained his country at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

"Brazil is like a new-born country because of the mixture of races and people - everyone who visits Brazil falls in love with the place, which is why we have such a mix. It also means we have a lot of creativity, but it is far from the ideal country that we could have. We could have better infrastructure, but it will come.

"Of course, the world will get to see our perfections and imperfections as a nation.

"We have to try to minimise them, and maybe some of the money to be spent on these two events might not go into the right hands.

"But it will be a good opportunity to invest in the infrastructure of the cities."

This may strike you as not being the sort of thing the average ex-footballer talks about. But then Socrates is not your average ex-footballer, in any way.

Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, to give him his full name, delayed the start of his international career until the age of 25 so he could complete his studies as a doctor.

When asked to name his heroes, rather than opting for Brazilian footballers such as Pele and Garrincha, he picked John Lennon and Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara - like Socrates, a trained doctor.

In his retirement, he has added a doctorate in philosophy and fathered six children, and he continues to practice medicine in the town of Ribeirao Preto in addition to being a commentator on both football and cultural issues. He is currently writing a novel.

The reason for his visit to London was to speak at an event organised as part of the South Bank Centre's London Literary Festival and Festival Brazil and in a wide-ranging discussion, he revealed to BBC Sport some of the attitudes that make Brazilian football and culture so distinctive.

"In Brazil, the way we live is not like Europe where you have your schedule for the whole year - we don't know what we are doing for the next 15 minutes," he said.

The best thing that football gave me was the chance to get to know human beings. I could see both sides of the society we live in

Socrates

"If you are born a Brazilian, when you play abroad, it doesn't matter how long you stay away, this stays inside you."

The Brazil team captained by Socrates at the 1982 World Cup also featured the thrilling talent of players such as Zico and Eder, and will long be remembered as one of the greatest sides never to win the World Cup.

But this lack of success at the highest level seems genuinely not to concern Socrates, as other things are more important.

"To win is not the most important thing, football is an art and should be showing creativity," he said.

"If [painters] Vincent van Gogh and Edgar Degas had known when they were doing their work the level of recognition that they were going to have, they would not have done them the same. You have to enjoy doing the art and not think 'will I win?'".

He also rejected any sense of disappointment at Brazil's failure at this year's World Cup, saying that the approach of coach Dunga had been wrong from the start.

"Brazilians were not disappointed, they didn't expect to win," he said.

"Dunga's approach did not reflect what Brazilians are really like. There was not enough creativity."

Creativity and self-expression are clearly all-important to Socrates, which is why he is almost as well known for his political opinions and activism as for his football.

Socrates with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Socrates' reputation extends far beyond the world of 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 Paolo club became the only one in the world run on a democratic basis, as a symbol of rejection of the military regime.

"Everyone at the club had the same right to vote - the person who looked after the kit and the club president, all their votes had the same weight," he said.

"It brought a conscience to the people that you could vote and change things - it made people realise together with other movements that were happening in the country that you could make change."

And he says getting involved in politics was something he felt an obligation to do.

"People gave me power as a popular footballer," he said.

"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.

"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.

"If I had stayed a doctor I would have stayed in just one area of society and only got to know one side of life.

"Nowadays people sell the idea to children that football can make you rich and famous - but that's all.

"It doesn't mean anything, the main thing is that you get to know both sides of life and to experience meeting people."

His unforgettable achievements on the pitch and his fascinating exploits off it ensure that to this day, Socrates remains one of the most memorable, fascinating and distinctive footballers of all time - and not just for his name.

"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.

Socrates - not your average ex-footballer, in any way.

Zico celebrates scoring for Brazil

World Cup 1982: Socrates skippers Brazil in 4-1 defeat of Scotland



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see also
Brazil World Cup preparations under spotlight
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Scolari for Brazil job - Socrates
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Tests ahead as focus turns to Brazil
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Dunga sacked as Brazil head coach
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Brazil look beyond Dunga to 2014
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Brazil fans wince and look to 2014
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Eriksson tips Brazil to win Cup
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New-look Brazil go back to basics
03 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
The moment Rio won its Olympic bid
02 Oct 09 |  Americas
Rio to stage 2016 Olympic Games
02 Oct 09 |  Olympics
Brazil to host 2014 World Cup
30 Oct 07 |  World
Brazil soccer star to join UK non-League
29 Oct 04 |  Sport News


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