One of the most painful pieces of football viewing for me is that of the game Italy vs Brazil where the Italians won 3-2 through the implosion of Brazil’s defence.
Much has been made in old school footballing circles of whether that Brazilian team was the best team never to win a world cup (or whether it was the Netherlands in 1974 or Hungary in 1954). I’d like to think it was, but Perez’s performances in goal didn’t really inspire confidence (he got off to a shocking start against the Soviet Union – who were footballing powerhouses in that decade), their defence still leaked too many goals and Serginho was always going to struggle to replace Careca who got injured just before that tournament.
The first time I heard of Careca was when he appeared in a football sticker album (“World Cup ’90”) alongside Romario. Even at that age, we knew Brazil were good and anyone wearing the number 10 shirt was worth keeping tabs on. And so it proved when Careca ran riot through a Swedish defence that never really turned up to that tournament. (I prefer the Brazilian commentary in these things). Like Sweden, the rest of the Brazil team also forgot to turn up to that tournament (that team only scored four goals in four games – their 1982 predecessors scored 15 in five – including four against a Scotland team containing Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish).
Socrates was the captain of that 1982 team – someone who achieved more in one lifetime than most of us will achieve in three. Medical doctor, Ph.D, captaining his country in a world cup (scoring against the Soviet Union and Italy in 1982, and against Spain in 1986) and human rights activist taking on a military dictatorship in his own back yard. (Brazil was a military dictatorship between 1964-85)
For the rest of us, becoming a doctor of medicine or of any other subject is a lifetime’s achievement. Playing in a world cup the same – and that’s not mentioning being captain and scoring against three of the top teams of their day. And how many of us would have the courage to set up a campaign against a military dictatorship in their own country? We are lucky in the UK never to have had to make that call. Look at the England team’s performance in recent world cups – and who has scored how many goals. How many of the international superstars of the premiership speak out on human rights abuses? Where have football’s great minds gone?
I’ve not even mentioned Zico – who scored two memorable goals against Scotland and New Zealand, but who, with the exception of setting up Socrates for his first goal, was marked out of the game against Italy by Snr Gentile – who did the same against a certain Diego Maradona a few days earlier.
My favourite piece of footage though is Zico’s goal against holders Argentina in the second round group of death (where Brazil, Argentina and Italy fought for a single place in the semi-finals). The group structure was scrapped after this tournament – this structure also led to England’s elimination despite having never lost a game and only conceding one goal in the entire tournament.
Compare the footage in the original live coverage from 3.30 in with what I found here from 3.35 – same event, different footage. Eder thumping the ball towards Filol’s goal, stinging the finger-tips of the latter – who then picks himself up to find Zico and Serginho racing towards them with none of his defenders in sight.
Noting John Motson’s commentary from the Brazil Scotland game of 1982 (scroll down to the end) he notes that Falcao was the only ‘exile’ who played abroad – with AS Roma in Italy. This meant that at world cups there was a genuine clash of footballing cultures – players were genuinely unfamiliar with each other – as were the audiences watching them.
This is not to say we should try to go back to a time that we risk looking at through rose-tinted glasses. In 1982 the players of Brazil, Argentina and the Soviet Union were all from countries that were under the rule of dictatorships – whether military in the former two or a communist one in the third. For Brazil and the Soviet Union at least, to what extent was their relatively free-flowing style of football in response to the oppression they faced at home?
Apart from the manner in which the Brazilian teams of Socrates’ era played the game, Socrates demonstrated an awareness of wider local and global issues around him. If only more footballers of today would follow his example in terms of his intellectual pursuits. (He smokes like a chimney and can drink me under the floor). I had the opportunity to go along to see him in London last year but bottled out. Hopefully he’ll recover from his recent operation and make another public visit sometime soon.
*Get well Dr Soccer!*