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Dr Socrates: Footballer, Philosopher, Legend By Andrew Downie

Release date: 09th March, 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

List Price: £18.99
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Very few people, especially footballers, warrant an obituary in The Economist, the high-brow weekly founded in 1843 aimed at what the magazine calls ‘progressives’. Presidents, Prime Ministers and seriously rich entrepreneurs tend to be the folks about whom The Economist writes once they’ve died, but in 2011, Brazil’s former midfielder and captain, the charismatic, outrageously skilled Socrates, who also practised as a doctor, justified his inclusion on several fronts as Andrew Downie’s excellent biography confirms.

Socrates penned his own book, almost inevitable titled Football Philosophy, in which he concluded that, “Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy.” It’s difficult to imagine many football managers advocating such an approach to an impending six-pointer, yet Socrates, an enormously successful player at club and international level (though he never won the World Cup), never failed to apply his own rules which made him such a joy to watch.

An elegant, but teak-tough midfielder, Socrates could accelerate and move effortlessly, running like a gazelle, peppering his displays with subtle back-heels and plenty of goals. Goodness knows how much clubs would pay for his services nowadays, but if Paul Pogba is worth £90 million, Socrates would cost a lot, lot more.

Brazil’s army of football fans called him ‘Dr Socrates’, but football was far from being his primary concern; he campaigned to alleviate poverty, told politicians to build roads and more schools and, most importantly, to teach manners.

He once said that his childhood heroes were Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and John Lennon. Paradoxically, he was a socialist who voted for the return of Brazil’s royalty, yet he continued to speak up for the common man, advocating genuine democracy whenever he found a platform to espouse his views.

He made no secret of his penchant for alcohol and cigarettes; despite being a truly brilliant footballer, he referred to himself as the ‘anti-athlete’, further evidence of his contradictory nature – which even saw him manage non-league Garforth in Yorkshire for a chilly month in 2004.

Socrates died aged 57 in 2011. Whether it is as a philosopher or footballer, we’re unlikely to see his ilk again, which is why Andrew Downie’s biography offers a timely reminder of just how much impact this well-rounded character had during his short life.


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