The fantasy football of Sócrates and Raí

The fantasy football of Sócrates and Raí

The World Cup legacies of Sócrates and Raí could spark a great debate about footballing ideologies.

Would you rather have captained the team considered the greatest side never to win the World Cup – the side that captured the imagination of a generation and are fondly remembered to this day? Or would you rather have captained a World Cup-winning side – the catch being that you were skipper for the opening three matches of the tournament before being dropped. You then had to mostly watch from the sidelines as your team played pragmatic football on the way to lifting the trophy.

Whatever side you are on, it was incredible that two brothers could not only go on to play for some of football’s top clubs, but also captain the most successful national side in the world in the biggest tournament on the planet. They were also recognised as their continent’s best players – Sócrates named South American Player of the Year in 1983, nine years before Raí lifted the award.

Sócrates, 11 years older than Raí, was a star of the tragic heroes of Brazil’s 1982 campaign. With the stick-thin build of a beanpole, the midfielder’s poise and grace on the ball were the embodiment of the last Brazil to focus on Ginga above all else. 

He also scored two wonderful goals. The Seleçao’s first strike of the tournament was a beauty as Sócrates crashed an unstoppable shot from 25 yards into the top corner to kickstart a comeback win over the USSR. He then scored the penultimate of his side’s 15 goals in five tournament matches, making it 1-1 against Italy in a match that ended in defeat and a traumatic exit.

This is how much of the world remembers Sócrates. The chain-smoking doctor and free-spirited leader of a team of romantics that fell short of its destiny. His role in the 1986 World Cup was significant but few reminisce about his goal in Brazil’s 1-0 win over Spain in the opening group game. His penalty miss in the shootout defeat to France in the quarter-final was an unfortunate way for his World Cup experience to end.

On the world stage, Raí’s story was more successful but less celebrated. Like his elder brother, he was an attacking midfielder, but slightly shorter and more muscular. Like his brother in 1982 and 1986, he scored a goal in Brazil’s opening match of the tournament – a penalty in a 2-0 win over Russia in 1994. 

But the 1994 squad was managed by Carlos Alberto Parreira, a pragmatist. His decision to replace Raí as captain with Dunga was a statement of his philosophy. The flair player made way for a defensive spoiler. Raí might have collected a World Cup winner’s medal after a final in which he played no part, but the experience must have been bittersweet.

But it would, of course, be a disservice to judge the careers of these brothers solely by their World Cup appearances. 

Original Series  |  Brothers in Arms

Brought up in a middle-class family, their first priority was education. Sócrates qualified as a doctor in the early stages of his football career. Raí did not maintain the same focus on his studies, but he has caught up on this post-playing career, which has involved work in social activism and philanthropy.

While the 11-year age gap denied the world the opportunity of witnessing the brothers playing together, they made their mark on football in a way that supporters of their clubs remember to this day.

Both began their playing careers at Botafogo-SP in São Paulo state. Like the age gap, their debuts came 11 years apart. They played similar roles at club and country, establishing themselves as goalscoring midfielders.

Sócrates best years were spent at Corinthians, where he won three Campeonato Paulista titles between 1979 and 1983. His one year in Europe came in Italy as he spent a season at Fiorentina in 1984/85, just as his younger brother was beginning his career.

While Sócrates earned legendary status at Corinthians, Raí’s finest years in Brazil were at fierce rivals São Paulo. Serving partly under Telê Santana – the manager of the 1982 vintage of his brother – Raí played a key role in a period of success. He won four Paulista titles between 1987 and 1992, and a Brasileirão in 1991.

In addition, he skippered São Paulo to consecutive Copa Libertadores titles in 1992 and 1993, scoring once in each final home leg. The high point of this first spell at São Paulo was his match-winning double in the 1992 Intercontinental Cup against Barcelona.

While Sócrates was 30 when he left for Europe, Raí took that step at 28, when he was at the peak of his powers. While Italy’s Serie A was undoubtedly the place to be in the 1990s, Raí opted for Paris Saint-Germain, a club that was on the rise.

Despite a difficult start to his time in France, he soon established himself as a key player in a very successful period. There was a Ligue 1 title in his first season before several cup runs, including the 1996 Cup Winners’ Cup and a journey to the previous year’s Champions League semi-finals.

Raí spent five years in France before returning to São Paulo, playing alongside the likes of David Ginola and George Weah during his time at the Parc des Princes. His international career may have been tainted by his failure to impress in 1994, but Raí’s club career surpasses his big brother.

Sócrates’ much-feted role in a thrilling, but ultimately unsuccessful, three weeks in 1982 may ensure that he remains the more famous of the pair to the wider world. But, as his long list of achievements demonstrates, the career forged by Raí deserves every bit as much respect.

By Paul Murphy @paulmurphybkk

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