When we think about footballing greats, it is no shock that Brazilians frequently come to the fore. With 5 World Cups, Brazil is the most successful team in the quadrennial competition which, for many, is seen as the greatest achievement in football. An archetypal example of Brazilian footballing class and ability was the attacking midfielder Sócrates. Representing his country in the early 80s and leading them as captain in the 1982 FIFA World Cup, Sócrates is commonly mentioned in conversations about the greatest midfielders to grace the beautiful game - in 2004, Pelé himself name Sócrates in the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players.
Sócrates’ achievements went beyond football, even whilst he was pursuing his career. Whilst playing professional football, Sócrates achieved a bachelor’s degree in medicine from the University of São Paulo, a notably rare achievement for a professional footballer. Furthermore, during his time playing for Corinthians, Sócrates co-founded the Corinthians Democracy movement, in opposition to the then-ruling military government. His opposition to the military junta was born at an early age, as his father was forced to rip his library containing books on philosophy apart due to the threat of the Coup of 64: “In 1964, I saw my father tear many books, because of the coup d’état. I thought that was absurd, because the library was the thing he liked best. That was when I felt that something was not right. But I only understood much later, in college.”
Together with the Corinthians Democracy movement, Sócrates protested against the regime’s treatment of footballers, supporting democratisation. In 1984, he spoke out in support of Diretas Já (Free Elections Now) - a movement calling for direct presidential elections. By this point, a number of clubs abroad expressed interest in Sócrates in the popular football destinations of Spain and Italy. Sócrates solidified his legacy in stone when he promised to remain in Brazil and reject a move abroad if the military-backed congress promised to allow free and fair elections, to pursue Brazil’s own kind of tropical socialism. The measure was rejected, and so Sócrates moved to Italy to play for Fiorentina. It has been noted that on moving to Italy, Sócrates was asked which Italian footballer he respected the most, Mazzola or Rivera, to which he responded “I don’t know them. I’m here to read Gramsci in the original language and to study the history of the worker’s movement.”
Sócrates’ medical degree, political activism and footballing ability gave him the nickname Doutor Sócrates (Doctor Sócrates); whilst his iconic beard and headband rendered him the ‘symbol of cool for a whole generation of footballers.’