Belfast Telegraph

Brazilian legend Socrates made game beautiful

By Tim Rich

Now, the sight of him would horrify most Premier League managers. He drank, he smoked, he had opinions and, worse, they were left-wing opinions.

Now, the sight of him would horrify most Premier League managers. He drank, he smoked, he had opinions and, worse, they were left-wing opinions.

Sir Alex Ferguson, a very different kind of socialist, insists that the manager must always be the most important factor in a football club. Socrates' vision was of a club run by its players.

He was what Keith Richards would have been had he fallen in love with the 1953 Hungarians rather than Chuck Berry, although Socrates' drink of choice was beer rather than Jack Daniels.

Like George Best he never properly acknowledged that alcohol was killing him until it was too late.

As a footballer he practised what he preached, as a doctor, he did not.

It is perhaps just as well that Socrates (pictured) believed that it was how rather than whether you won that mattered because he is the central figure in one of the most gloriously spectacular failures of any World Cup.

Like Hungary in 1954 and the Netherlands 20 years later, the 1982 World Cup should have been Brazilian.

The boys of ‘82, the side that the tall medical student from Ribeirao Preto captained, was the only Brazil team of recent years that was truly beautiful, the only one that stepped from the shadows cast by the team of 1970.

Hungary and Holland at least reached the final. Brazil did not make the semis. Their 3-2 defeat by Italy is one of the great World Cup encounters and Socrates' is one of the great World Cup goals. He plays the ball to Falcao, who with a flick leaves Claudio Gentile floundering. He feeds Socrates, who is facing Dino Zoff at an improbably tight angle. The shot cracks into the net.

The team of 1982 is often compared to the 1970 side in terms of the way they performed but there is one critical difference. The boys of 1970 were the subject of rigid discipline and preparation.

Under Tele Santana and Socrates, the training regimes were relaxed affairs and perhaps the reduction of discipline cost them.

Paolo Rossi may have scored a hat-trick in Barcelona's Sarria Stadium but Brazil's defensive slackness is, nearly 30 years on, jaw-dropping. They fell behind in three of their five games and this time they could not make up the deficit. Rossi scored his second after Cerezo passed across the face of his own 18-yard line.

Four years later, Santana and Socrates would try again. This time they reached the quarter-finals on a succession of clean sheets but the great midfield was worn down by injury and the magic was missing.

In a pounding, brilliant match against France he might have scored three times in Guadalajara but his last act was to miss a penalty in the shoot-out.

He only played twice for clubs outside Brazil, for Fiorentina in Italy — and for Garforth Town.

He was 50 when he turned out for the Yorkshire club, who sold 3,000 tickets for a game against Tadcaster Albion.

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