Dr Socrates - one of football's best
ON THE BOUNDARY, Tony Becca
My favourite footballer of all time is Edson Arantes de Nascimento, popularly known as Pelé, and close behind him are Diego Maradona, Georgie Best - although he never had the opportunity to parade his skills in a World Cup, Johan Cruyff, and Lionel Messi - even though he is still to prove himself in the company of the world's best in a World Cup tournament.
There are others, men like Garrincha - the 'Little Bird' - and Zico, players who are on my favourites list of footballers because of the way they played the game.
To me, they are the players, some of them, who made and are making, football the beautiful game.
And there is, or was, one more. He was christened Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Veiro de Oliveira and he was known as Dr Socrates, not only because he was a medical doctor, but also because of his superb skill and his majestic play as a footballer.
Sócrates was a Brazilian. He first played for Botafogo; he played for Corinthians, Fiorentina in Italy, Flamengo, and Santos; he represented Brazil in two World Cup tournaments; he captained the team; according to one of his coaches, Alberto Parreira, he was intelligent, and he also was politically conscious - the co-founder of Corinthians Democracy, a party formed in opposition to the then military government mainly because of the government's treatment of footballers.
Sócrates died last Sunday, on December 4, in a hospital in Sao Paulo at the age of 57, and the world lost one of the greatest exponents of football, one who represented Brazil 60 times and scored 22 goals, one who was named South American Footballer of the Year for 1983, and one who was also named in FIFA's 100 greatest players of all time in 2008.
A slim man, Sócrates was famous for his beard, moustache, long hair, and headband, he was a graceful and a creative midfielder, he had fantastic vision and his through-passes were deadly.
Like most Brazilians, he read the game beautifully. In fact, he was one of the greatest midfielders ever to play the game, and on top of that, he was also a two-footed player with a love for scoring goals.
Although he was a great, very great, footballer, and also a Brazilian, Sócrates, unlike his brother Rai, who played in 1990, to his everlasting regret, never played on a winning World Cup team despite being to two World Cup tournaments, one in 1982 and one in 1986.
The team to the 1982 World Cup in Spain, however, was considered by many to be the greatest team never to have won the World Cup, and Sócrates, the captain, was the greatest player on that team, in spite of the presence of Zico.
Indeed, he was arguably the greatest player in the tournament, even with the presence of Maradona, Paulo Rossi, and goalkeeper Dino Zoff.
Sócrates was scintillating throughout the tournament, sometimes directing and sometimes leading Brazil's attack.
Brazil lost 3-2 to the eventual winners, Italy, in the early stages of the tournament, with Sócrates and Falcao scoring one each for Brazil and Rossi three times for Italy.
With a midfield of Sócrates, Junior, Falcao, and Eder, Brazil 1982 was not only the greatest team not to have won the World Cup: they were probably, but for the Brazil team of 1958, the team that included goalkeeper Gilmar, Nilton Santos, Djelma Santos, Garrincha, Vava, Didi, Zagalo, and Pelé, and the Brazilian team of 1970, the team of goalkeeper Felix, Carlos Alberto, Brito, Piazza, Everaldo, Clodoaldo, Jairzinho, Gerson, Tostao, Revilino, and Pelé, the greatest team, in my opinion, that ever played in the World Cup.
Football is probably the world's most popular game, it is without a doubt a lovely game, and it is unquestionably a beautiful game. It is probably a popular game because Sócrates played it; it is a lovely game, popular because of the impact of one like Sócrates, and it is a beautiful game simply because of how Sócrates played the game.
In remembering Sócrates on Sunday, on the day he died, on the day Corinthians won the Brazilian national title for the fifth time, a representative of Corinthians thanked Dr Socrates for the "beautiful goals, the touch of genius, and for the majestic football only he could play."
Sócrates was a gifted footballer, a special footballer from the land of football, and he was widely known as the man with the 'Golden Heel' because of a remarkable skill, his trademark, of passing the ball with his heel as accurately and as deadly as he did with his feet, either of them.