It's true that football hero Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira left us too soon, at 57, with lots of wit and coolness still to spread. But since death is unavoidable, his was exactly how he said he wanted it. Not that he was completely mad about the club which made him captain of the Seleção in the 1982 World Cup in Spain - a peak in his footballing career. His bonds were to the 30 million people who support it. On this Sunday, 40 thousand of those raised their right arms and showed their closed fists at Pacaembu stadium, in São Paulo, to revive the quiet way "the doctor" celebrated his goals. All around Brazil, many other repeated the gesture. Corinthians ended up Brazilian champions thanks to a scoreless draw with archrivals Palmeiras. Even so, you could see there were age divisions in the festivities: the older was the supporter, the less jubilant he was. A lot of respect. Club officials, though, seemed to be in another dimension - Corinthians president Andrés Sanchez said no more than "my condolences". But that's ok: Sócrates wouldn't be happy if he had gotten praise from those he criticised so frequently and openly.
As all the matches of the last round began, Sócrates was being buried in Ribeirão Preto - north of São Paulo state. A minute of silence was REALLY observed in all nine stadia - there is a saying in Brazil some people boo even that. But not today. In Ribeirão, he grew up to be not only one of the 125 best players ever, according to Fifa, but also a respectable doctor, with a lot of social work going on. In a simple wooden casket, only 12 hours after his death, his body was led to the grave by an orchestra of acoustic guitars. A grave covered by a Corinthians flag. Despite all the artistic football he helped the Seleção develop in 1982, in Brazil he is regarded more as a moral beacon and a club player - Brazilians tend to be unfair with those who never won a World Cup. His presence in the media, specially giving political opinions, made him more likable to fans of other clubs, though it never changed the fact he was a Corinthians star.
in 2008, he said drinks were just a companion to ease his shyness. "I drink to live"
It was at Corinthians he launched a movement to criticize the governing dictatorship in the beginning of the 80'ies. Much before coach Telê Santana chose him to use the band and possibly lift the trophy in Spain, Sócrates took the team to regional titles and to make players decide everything that was related to work, from signings to training tables. Doing that all alone in a democracy would be a surprise. Doing that at a dictatorship is much braver and revolutionary. "Winning or losing. But always with democracy." Sócrates was one of the guys who made the Brazilian regime see there was writing on the wall. "If Congress approves the bill to open elections, I will not transfer to Italy", he shouted during a 1984 rally. Disappointed, he ended up at Fiorentina. For one season. "I wanted to be an agitator again", he said after arriving at Flamengo. That's why he was still asked his political opinions more often than most congressmen. He never stopped caring about politics: many insiders say he wrote himself the bill to tell how Fifa will operate in Brazil during the World Cup. He was friends with former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and has Dilma Rousseff's respect.
A victim of alcohol. That's an image Sócrates never wanted. During an interview I had with him at his habitat - a pub -, in 2008, he said drinks were just a companion to ease his shyness. "I drink to live", he said. It turns out this was a daily hazardous companion for decades, since he was just a medicine student at Ribeirão Preto, in the early 70'ies. Even so, everyone who knew him states he would rather be reminded as a cool master. "I drink, I smoke and I think", he said once, still as a footballer. A non conformist. His service lasted just a couple of hours and there will be a big party to honour his departure in the next few days. Another wish he had. Former mates at Corinthians and the Seleção promised to be there. After all, the most difficult part of the whole wish was already delivered.
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