The Late Great Socrates

December 19, 2011 — by Suman

Belatedly, a roundup of links regarding the passing of Brazilian great Socrates a couple weeks ago:
Remembering Brazil’s Soccer Philosopher King, penned by Gabriele Marcotti, appeared in the WSJ the day after his death:

Sunday [December 4] morning marked the passing of Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, better known simply as Socrates. The Brazilian midfielder was 57. He is survived by his wife and six sons.

Brazilian midfielder Socrates, seen during the 1982 World Cup. (European Pressphoto Agency)
Sometimes greatness is measured through intangibles like leadership and personality, sometimes it is gauged through empirical achievement, like statistics and championships. Sometimes it’s a combination of all those things. But Socrates stood on an even higher plane: Soccer will probably never again produce anyone like him.The 1982 Brazilian team that he captained was perhaps the greatest never to win the World Cup (along with Hungary in 1954 and Holland in 1974). It was also one of the last Brazil teams to fully embody the romantic stereotype that comes to mind when we think of the green-and-gold. Sublime touches, languid pace, creativity … the sheer joy of what they call “jogo bonito,” or the beautiful game. Zico was probably the best player on that Brazil side, but Socrates was its philosophy made flesh.

Via Twitter, we came across this: “@philosophybites: Socrates discusses the aesthetics of football in this video by @susakpress“:

Also via Twitter, we’d come across this blog post on Five In Midfield earlier this year, about Socrates And The Corinthians Democracy Movement: How Football Helped To Change A Country

In searching for more on Socrates and the CDM, we came to a more academic discussion of it–an article from the Spring 1989 issue of The Wilson Quarterly titled “Socrates, Corinthians and Democracy“, by one Matthew Shirts (“Editor-in-chief of National Geographic Brazil, author of O jeitinho americano, editorial coordinator of Planeta Sustentável, and chronicler at VEJA SP.”)

Before I am charged with unfair labeling, let me make clear that I am talking not about ancient Greece but 20th-century Brazil. The Corinthians under discussion rarely, if ever, travel by boat, and this particular Socrates, while given to philosophizing, is a popular soccer player.

“Corinthian Democracy,” to come directly to the point, refers to a political movement conceived by team administrators and soccer players in an attempt to alter the managementllabor relations of the “Corinthians,” a club in Siio Paulo, Brazil’s great southern industrial city. The movement seized headlines for the first time in 1982, on the eve of elections for the club presidency. It did so because of the soccer stars involved and also because of certain resemblances between the club’s internal politics and the larger Brazilian political arena

But we’re still working on tracking down the full text of that piece–it’s behind The Wilson Quarterly’s paygate (or if any of you academics that have access to JSTOR want to pass it on, it’s also available there).
In the meantime another academically minded blog treatment of Socrates and the CDM came to us via our resident philosopher, humanist and technologist Frank. He passed on the link to a post on NewAPPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science titled Sócrates: making political history with football, written by a philosopher of Brazilian origin:

 The importance of his political activism cannot be overestimated. One must bear in mind that, in the early 1980s, even though the most violent phase of the military dictatorship was over, Brazil was still not a democracy (in fact, the first real elections for president took place only in 1989!). Football had been widely used by the military regime to promote their own interests, in particular the 1970 World Cup victory in Mexico. The Corinthians Democracy went in the opposite direction; by establishing a democratic structure within the club, the players (led by Sócrates, Wladimir, Casagrande and Zenon) were clearly also making a statement against the authoritarian state of Brazilian politics in general, and demanding democracy and political openness.

I was 6 years old in 1982 (ok, so now everybody knows how old I am!), and have been profoundly marked by these events. My father was a communist*, a medical doctor and a Corinthians supporter, and together with friends who shared the same attributes (and thus felt the additional ‘doctor’ connection with Sócrates), believed that something novel and deeply moving was going on with the Corinthians Democracy. Plus, Corinthians was on a roll with championships and cups, as it had not been for decades! Sócrates was our hero both for his football and for his politics. Indeed, the 1982 election that is referred to in the quote above (not for president, but for state governor and parliament) is one of my most powerful childhood memories (there I was, standing by one of the voting sites and distributing flyers for candidates at age 6), as is the Corinthians victory in the state championship of 1982 – and sadly, also the defeat to Italy in the 1982 World Cup… Sócrates is part of each of them, and I can only thank him for being such a unique and inspirational role model for me and millions of others at such a crucial time in Brazilian history: he was making history with football.

(We should include the author’s footnote: “* In those circumstances, being a communist actually amounted to being pro-democracy and against the dictatorial regime.”)


Marca on Madrid: “Con 10 Se Juega Mejor”

April 17, 2011 — by Suman1


We’ve been digesting Saturday’s Real Madrid-Barcelona 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu–just the first installment of this month’s 4-part El Clásico series; the second is coming up this Wednesday with the Copa del Rey final, to be contested on neutral turf–at the Mestalla in Valencia. In the meantime, it’s always entertaining to see how Madridista tabloid Marca spins the latest big result.

There’s much to savor in this cover. The screaming lead (“Con 10 se juega mejor”) seems pedestrian enough. Translating to “It’s better to play with 10” (or “We play better with 10”?), Marca is seemingly remarking simply that Madrid played better after losing Albiol to a red card and playing a man short for the final 40 minutes of the match.

But it turns out the headline may actually be an allusion to an aphorism attributed to the legendary manager Helenio Herrera–which leads to something of a Möbius strip of historical resonances: Herrera, nicknamed Il Mago (“The Wizard”), is best known for managing Barcelona (1958-1960) and subsequently Inter Milan (1960-1968).  His Barcelona sides successfully challenged the 5-time European champions Real Madrid on the domestic front. Then in Milan he gave birth to Catenaccio and led “La Grande Inter” to two consecutive European championships (1964 and 1965).  Inter didn’t conquer Europe again until last year–led by Jose Mourinho of course, defeating Barcelona along the way in the semifinal, which led to headlines such as “In José Mourinho Inter finally have a true heir to Helenio Herrera.”

(For more on Herrera, confer this post on The Equaliser (which also has a post about La Grande Inter); Chapter 9 of Simon Kuper’s Soccer Against The World, titled “A Day with Helenio Herrera”; the chapter of Jimmy Burns’s Barça: A People’s Passion covering Herrera’s tenure at Barcelona, titled “El Salvador”; or this post titled “The Really Special One – Helenio Herrera.”)

Back to the Marca cover: Mou(rinho)’s comment on the matter gets put across the top (“Me cansa jugar siempre contra ellos con diez jugadores” / “I am tired of always playing against them with 10 players”), and Marca asks whether the “roja directo” (straight red) for Albiol versus no yellow (“ni amarilla”) for Alves on the respective penalties represents a double standard (“¿doble rasero?”).

Of course it’s CR7 and Messi that dominate the image–another fine piece of photoshopping. Ronaldo striding with the ball, looking up, clawing at the air like some sort of big cat (perhaps an allusion to Mourinho’s hunting with cats?), while Messi shuffles behind him, eyeing the ball, looking disturbed/disturbing.

But we also rather like the little image of Guardiola and Mourinho inserted at the top: the two managers with their backs to each other, pistols in hand.  One round of the duel completed–three more to go.


Gelukkige Verjaardag Ruud Krol!

March 24, 2011 — by Suman1

Ruud Krol at the 1978 World Cup - captaining the Dutch team with his lucky necklace

Ruud Krol, one of the original Dutch masters, was born in Amsterdam on this day in 1949. So: Gelukkige Verjaardag Ruud Krol!

Krol was part of the great Dutch generation of the 1970s: he played on the great Ajax side that was managed by Rinus Michels and led on the field by Johan Cruijff, Johan NeeskensPiet Keizer and Krol.  Together they famously won three consecutive UEFA European Cups (the precursor to today’s Champions League), and in doing so introduced totaalvoetbal to the world.

Indeed, Krol stayed at Ajax throughout the ’70s, after Cruiff and Neeskens had left for Barcelona and Keizer had also left the squad (for retirement?), leaving only in 1980 to spend a year with the Vancouver Whitecaps of NASL, followed by four seasons in Serie A with Napoli and a couple seasons in France with Cannes.

Krol was also a featured member of the great Dutch national teams of that era–the legendary 1974 team that was probably the best side to not win the World Cup, and he captained the 1978 team that returned to the championship game only to lose to the host nation yet again.

PS: A hat-tip to @retro_mbm for re-tweeting @barafundler‘s message that noted today is Krol’s brirthday and included the link this video. Follow @retro_mbm if you’re interested in the history of the game (“Modern football? No thanks! Classic matches, as they happened.”).


Arsenal v Leeds 1972 – Centenary FA Cup Final

January 8, 2011 — by Suman

The two historied English clubs played earlier today, in a 3rd Round FA Cup matchup at the Emirates.  While today’s was an interesting match, their most famous FA Cup clash was on May 6, 1972 at Wembley–in the centenary FA Cup Final.  Leeds won 1-0 to win their 1st and only FA Cup.

Unlike today, when it would have been a major upset for Leeds to hang on for a victory against Arsenal, in 1972 they were perhaps the two strongest sides in English football.  Arsenal had pulled off the double the previous season, winning both the league and the FA Cup, with Leeds finishing 2nd in the 1970-71 First Division table–just a single point behind the Gunners.

It’s a game that’s well-documented online, by and for Leeds supporters; e.g., a Yorkshire Evening Post photo gallery which includes the front pages from the programmes of the match (left) and the May 8, 1972 special edition of the Evening Post (which includes pics of Leeds captain Billy Bremner receiving the Cup from Queen Elizabeth II and lifting the Cup above the squad):

CommentaryHistoryThey ReminisceVideo

La Magica Roma: 1982-1984

December 17, 2010 — by Simeone1


I am an hardcore fan of the “magica” Roma…I fell in love with the “giallorossi” (“red-yellow”) when I was a kid, 10 years old (1980), Roma-Udinese 0-0, at the old Olimpic Stadium with my mum and dad. We got there at the last minute and we could only find standing “seats”, at the bottom of the Curva Nord (the other curve, Curva Sud, is the home of Roma’s fans). Tw years later Italy won the World Cup, defeating Argentina with Passarella and an already famous Maradona.  (Gentile, the rough italian defender, still has a piece of his jersey!)  Then Italy-Brazil, 3-2, an amazing game, with three goals by Rossi (and a great counterattack goal by Antognoni disallowed)….I am talking about the great Brazil of Zico, Falcao (a Roma’s player by then), Socrates, Junior, Eder….I think one of the best games ever by the Azzurri, second only to the 1970 semifinal victory against Germany (4-3 in overtime). Poland of Lato in the semifinal was a joke and then the usual win against Germany…we rarely (never?) lost against Germany in the World Cup.

There was always a party in the streets during that summer of 1982 in Rome, Italian flags everywhere, people crazy rallying for hours after each game…and remember that we barely made it through the first round, with a tie against Cameroon.

Well, a few months later, in the ’82-83 Serie A season, Liedholm (Swedish coach), Falcao (5), Conti (7), Di Bartolomei (10), and Tancredi (goalie) lead the Roma squad to the second scudetto after 40 years!!  Nobody removed their flags from the windows and balconies, they just added the Roma flag!!!  I remember those days with a lot of joy. I was 12….still a kid.  Me and my dad going to the stadium by subway, then bus, sometimes walking for a couple of miles just for the heck of it (waiting for the bus was boring and we were usually early for the game, since the sooner we got there, the better seats we could get). Bringing paninis with us, spending hours in the stadium, cutting newspapers to use when the teams stepped into the field, singing the Roma anthem by Venditti (see below).  Many times my cousins came along, as well as some friends from school, but it was mainly me and my dad…always there.


Battles at Old Trafford: A Bit of Man U vs Arsenal History

December 13, 2010 — by Suman

Cole, Keown, van Nistelrooy - The Battle of Old Trafford, Sept 2003

A very highly anticipated Premier League matchup today, with Man U vs Arsenal kicking off in a matter of minutes at Old Trafford.  Certainly it’s a significant match for this edition of the Premier League race, with Arsenal one point ahead of Manchester United at the top of the table (Man U do have a game in hand, and in fact are undefeated so far in the Premier League–but they definitely haven’t looked invincible).  Beyond just the current standings, however, Man U and Arsenal have developed quite the heated rivalry over the past couple decades–not as historically/geographically rooted as some other English football rivalries perhaps, but given the clashing personalities of their famous managers and especially the strength of their sides, it’s become one of the mostly highly anticipated fixtures in the Premier League. Two clashes in particular stand out–as evidenced by the fact that they have their own Wikipedia entries: The Battle of Old Trafford (a 0-0 draw in Sept 2003) and The Battle of the Buffet (a 2-0 victory for Man U the following season, in Oct 2004).

The events of the Battle of Old Trafford feature heavily in the videos below: van Nistelrooy drawing a second yellow for Patrick Vieira, with Vieira subsequently going buckwild after the Dutchman; and then van Nistelrooy missing a PK in extra time to preserve the draw–with Arsenal defender then getting in van Nistelrooy’s face.  It was a miss that became especially significant in Premier League history, as that was the year of the Invincibles–the only side to go undefeated thru an entire season.


Soccer in Sun & Shadow: A Brief History of Uruguayan Football

July 6, 2010 — by Suman3

"Soccer in Sun & Shadow" by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano

“Other countries have their history. And Uruguay has its football.” -Ondino Viera, Uruguayan national coach during the 1966 World Cup

On the surface, it appears that among the 4 remaining teams, Uruguay is the minnow, the surprise. No one really expected them to be playing today–some even doubted whether they would advance from their group, given that they were placed with two purported soccer powers in Mexico and France, as well as the host South African side.

But from another perspective, this is a return to the sun for Uruguayan football, after decades spent in the shadows.

Consider that of the remaining semifinalists, Holland and Spain have never won the World Cup (perhaps the two greatest footballing nations never to have won), and while Germany has won 3 times (as West Germany, actually: twice as hosts, in 1954 and 1974, and again in 1990), Uruguay is right behind them, having won twice, in 1930 and 1950.