PLAYING THE BEAUTIFUL GAME
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