When Paris decided to honour 'Dr Sócrates'

There's a street now in Paris bearing his iconic name

Socrates (File) Socrates in action against Argentina at the 1982 World Cup in Spain | Getty Images

As the 60th anniversary of Brazil's brutal 21-year military dictatorship arrives, no figure better encapsulates the country's struggle for democratic liberation than Sócrates Brasileiro. The legendary footballer transcended sports, using his fame to rally masses against oppression while dazzling the world with his revolutionary creativity on the pitch. Now, Sócrates has received a permanent global honour—a street bearing his iconic name in the heart of Paris’s inner suburb of Saint-Ouen.

The newly unveiled Rue Sócrates in the famous neighbourhood cements the Brazilian maestro's status as a sportsman par exellence and vanguard of human rights and progressive ideals. On hallowed Parisian boulevards where revolutionaries have gathered for centuries, Sócrates has taken a street name among the city's reverential philosophers and freethinkers.

"Sócrates' idea inspired everything we are experiencing. He represents values far beyond Brazil. The world is in danger, so, more than ever, it needs Sócrates," reflected his brother Raí, himself a World Cup winner, at the christening ceremony attended by Sócrates’s son and international dignitaries.

THE WEEK retraced Sócrates's history as a player and a democratic revolutionary as part of a retrospective on great Brazilian players as a prelude to last year’s World Cup.

With his trademark beard, headband and bouncing curls, Sócrates cut the unmistakable figure of a nonconformist sage—part artistic genius, part revolutionary spirit. On the field, he dazzled with a unique skillset that bent geometry to his desires through physics-defying backheels and audacious flicks.

Even Pelé, widely considered the greatest of all time, paid Sócrates the ultimate compliment: "He played better with his back to goal than most players did facing forward."

That visionary genius first mesmerised the world at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. In Brazil's opener against the Soviet Union, Sócrates produced arguably his finest individual moment—a ferocious 25-yard half-volley that seared past Soviet legend Rinat Dasayev for a stunning comeback victory.

"It was his first game as captain which had been his dream for a long time—the romance of the World Cup," explained Sócrates' biographer Andrew Downie. "It was one of the greatest moments of his life, not just his playing career."

While Sócrates never achieved his ultimate dream of World Cup glory, the 22 goals he scored in 60 appearances permanently etched his name among Brazil's all-time greats in the sacred yellow shirt. More importantly, his lasting impact derived from his courageousness off the field as the nation's pre-eminent voice for democracy and human rights.

Growing up under the oppressive military junta in the 1960s, an intense young Sócrates suffered searing childhood trauma that ignited his social consciousness. At just 10 years old, the voracious reader was forced to tear up his family's entire book collection on orders of the regime censoring intellectual materials.

"It was absurd, because the library was the thing [my father] liked best," Sócrates later recalled. From that oppression sprouted seeds of resistance, a dedication to knowledge and progressive values that flourished at Sócrates' Universidade de São Paulo medical school.

Off the pitch, the erudite footballer engaged with all strata of intellectuals, revelling in debates on democracy, societal ills, and human rights causes. In a nation plagued by illiteracy amidst the regime's iron grip, Sócrates represented an existential threat.

On the field, he deployed those ideals through the revolutionary "Corinthians Democracy" movement. In this unprecedented self-governance experiment, players had an equal voice in all club decisions rather than a rigid top-down hierarchy.

"Let's ensure nothing comes from the top down, because the best solutions are with those hands-on," Sócrates proclaimed, as Corinthians celebrated goals with raised fists honoring democratic protests.

"Sócrates was one of the prototypes for athlete-activists today," Downie stated. "None of the true icons like Maradona or Pelé did anything like he did off the field. That's what makes him so special."

Indeed, Sócrates embraced his platform's influential power, joining the mass "Diretas Já" (Direct Elections Now) rallies that eventually helped topple the dictatorship in 1985 after over two decades of oppression.

"If you look at icons like Maradona and Pelé, none did anything Sócrates accomplished off the field," Downie marveled. "That's what made him such a special person."

The footballer's bravery originated from his emancipated mentality— an absolute belief in intellectual freedom. Sócrates spoke unvarnished truth to power, taking principled stances no matter the personal cost.

"I am an anti-athlete," he once stated defiantly. "I cannot deny myself lapses from the strict regime of a sportsman. You have to take me as I am."

That authenticity, coupled with his sublime skill and eloquence, allowed Sócrates to transcend barriers, containing multitudes in one transcendent persona. He was a prism projecting the universe's full human potential— at once intellectual and athlete, revolutionary and renegade, philosopher and playmaker.

By mastering those dichotomies, Sócrates became the prototype for generations of socially conscious, multidimensional athletes utilising their fame to spark change. From Kaepernick and Rapinoe to LeBron, he cracked the ceiling and inspired others to bravely embrace activism's convictions.

When Sócrates tragically passed in 2011 at just 57 years old, even his 1982 World Cup foe Paolo Rossi mourned: "A piece of our history has broken off."

Yet the Philosopher King's spirit could never be extinguished. In the democratic freedoms he struggled to usher into existence, the communities uplifted by his philanthropy, and the fevered imaginations of fans witnessing his ingenuity, Sócrates casts an eternal shadow across Brazil and the globe.

From the favelas echoing his name to the Rue Sócrates where athletes will gather in the Olympic Village that will receive the Brazilian delegation at the Paris Olympic Games and where a carnival with giant dolls will dance again after 47 years. the naming represents a permanent reminder—a physical manifestation of the ideals embodied by the Brazilian Master. Here stands a model for Original Thinkers courageous enough to shatter established narratives by unleashing their unique creativity in the eternal quest for truth, beauty and justice.

This, at last, is the hallowed resting place for the memory of football's Rebel Genius. The street stretching before those daring enough to follow his trailblazing path and wield their talents for greater purpose than mere entertainment. A new boulevard for generations of visionaries prepared, like Sócrates, to illuminate a more beautiful world.


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