He was the thinking man’s player on the field and he certainly had the thoughtful name off it. Brazil’s 1982 World Cup captain Socrates (or Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, MD, Ph.D to give the man his full due) was a wonderful midfield dynamo, who played for his country 60 times, scoring an impressive 22 goals in the process, as well as providing key assists. Famously, he’s a doctor of medicine, a very rare accomplishment for a footballer, even more so that he earned the degree while playing professionally. He wasn’t short of political opinions either, using the beautiful game as a way to challenge the Brazilian military regime’s treatment of footballers by wearing jerseys with ‘Democracia’ during games. Not for nothing are his childhood heroes Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and John Lennon. What a strike force they would have made.
On the eve of Brazil’s campaign kicking off in the three-quarter Group of Death — opening opponents North Korea won’t pose quite the same threat as Portugal and Ivory Coast — Socrates spoke to me about what he’s up to in South Africa as well as his thoughts on Brazil — almost sure to raise the odd eyebrow — and his sensational side that graced the 1982 World Cup finals.
What are you doing in South Africa?
I’m an ambassador for the 1Goal project and I’m helping to develop this and help to get education for all the kids in the whole world. We’re trying to get millions of signatures to raise awareness and funds to reach the goal of every child having the opportunity for education by the next World Cup in Brazil 2014.
How excited are you by this first ever World Cup to be held in Africa?
It’s very good because it means the whole world will know more about Africa, and help develop Africa as well as increase health, education and all the basic things the population needs.
I have to ask you about Brazil: how do you think your team will do?
I’m not so confident about the Brazilians. I actually think it will be hard getting through to the next stage. Perhaps we will be stopped in the first phase because the players are not so good physically. But if Brazil does get to the knockout phase, they could then go all the way to the final.
Many say it’s the Group of Death: are you more worried about Portugal or the Ivory Coast?
Portugal. They’re better because, quite simply, the Ivory Coast don’t have Drogba anymore.
Which players should we watch for?
(Laughs) Messi is the best one but I don’t know how Messi and the others are doing in terms of coping physically so it’s always impossible to know who will do well.
I also have to ask you about yourself: you were the captain of that amazing 1982 side. Tell me about that
It was an amazing, fantastic team, playing really beautiful football and I’m so proud that I was part of that side.
Was that the best side to never win the World Cup?
Well, I think my team of 1982 was really good but I also think the Holland side of 1974 and Argentina team of 1994 were two of the best teams to never win the World Cup.
I need a prediction: who will win the World Cup?
(Laughs) The best team over here is Spain but it’s not possible to know anything in advance!
And is it true that you’ve gone back to practicing medicine in Brazil?
I do a lot of things now! Yes, I am doing some medicine but also journalism and social politics. That’s why I’m here in South Africa to talk about education and get people to sign up.