PLAY­ING THE BEAU­TI­FUL GAME

India Today - - LEISURE - —Sopan Joshi

Sócrates—the foot­ball player from Brazil—had an ap­peal that tran­scended foot­ball, sports and his home coun­try. Any bi­og­ra­phy of the man is fraught with com­plex­ity, but with­out delv­ing sub­jec­tively into what made him a foot­ball ro­man­tic’s dream, there’s no hope of depict­ing this med­i­cal doc­tor and philoso­pher ac­cu­rately.

In the early ’80s, Socrates turned the run­ning of his Sao Paulo club, Corinthi­ans, into a ral­ly­ing cry for democ­racy against the mil­i­tary junta that ruled Brazil for two decades. As a sports­man, his foot­ball was lazy, beau­ti­ful and sur­pris­ingly re­fresh­ing. He ex­uded an ama­teur charm rare in pro­fes­sional sport. He had depth and se­ri­ous­ness, with an ever-so-light touch, and a mon­strous sense of hu­mour, which went along with an out-of­pro­por­tion gen­eros­ity in the dress­ing room and on the pitch. Yet, in­side this larger-than-life anti-ath­lete was a he­do­nist and a con­trar­ian; an un­in­hib­ited and self-in­dul­gent rogue who could take any­body for a ride—and would do so for a lark. His con­sump­tion of beer and cig­a­rettes used to shock in­ter­view­ers. His ex­tra­mar­i­tal dal­liances were as co­pi­ous as the goals he scored.

Scot­land-born An­drew Downie, now Reuters’ sports cor­re­spon­dent for Brazil, man­ages to tread a nar­row path in de­scrib­ing Sócrates, with skill­ful writ­ing, warmth in re­port­ing and a clear eye. This bi­og­ra­phy should be com­pul­sory read­ing for sports fans, but will also hold non-fans in thrall.

One ques­tion the book an­swers is ‘how did Socrates come to play the way he did?’ The facts are these: he was wary of phys­i­cal du­els, given his tall-but-slen­der frame, and his bal­ance was limited by very small feet. From a young age, Sócrates learned to get rid of the ball quickly, one-touch, in the di­rec­tion of team­mates who were will­ing to run hard and were less con­cerned than he about suf­fer­ing con­cus­sions. Downie, too, scores with the rich ma­te­rial the mas­ter­ful player pro­vides.

Doc­tor Socrates by An­drew Downie Pub­lished by Si­mon & Schus­ter, UK Pages: 400 Price: Rs 2,000

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