Farewell to Socrates and Speed

December 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Posted in General Football, World Cup Memories | Leave a comment

Recently two football greats passed away prematurely. I want to pay my respects to two players who have brought so much to the game.

When I was a youngster of 17 years, the 1982 World Cup really put a spell on me. That year the full range of glorious football possibilities was made clear to me as Brazil offered up what is considered the best team not to win the World Cup. The lynchpin of that team, and the team that was almost as good in 1986, was a central midfielder (also a medical doctor) called Socrates. For me Socrates stands as one of the all-time greats of Brazilian football; his stature is only dimmed somewhat by the fact he never won the big prize.

His goal against the Soviet Union in 1982 (scored against one of my favorite goalkeepers, Rinat Dasayev) was a tour de force of football skill and ability. Socrates picked up a sloppy clearance from the Soviet defence in midfield, sold two outrageous dummies to bewildered Soviet defenders, and then unleashed a spectacular drive into the top left corner of the net (it bounced in off the crossbar for even more spectacular effect). It was one of those goals that makes you shout out for both joy and amazement. What a goal!!! His goal against Italy later on in the tournament was a masterpiece of anticipation and off the ball running. He was one of the best back heel passers in the history of the game. A simple search on YouTube will bring up footage of this beautiful footballer, which I never will tire of watching.

It was a case of “doctor, heal thyself” however, as Socrates loved his cigarettes and booze as much as he loved football.  Hence his early demise at the age of 57.  For giving me unforgettable memories of the game, and for being one of the last great practitioners of the Brazilian beautiful game, (he hated the way the Brazilian team played in the 2010 World Cup), I say thank you to Socrates.

The loss of Gary Speed was the real shocker.  This man, who was a model professional footballer, shocked us all when he committed suicide a few weeks ago now.  Rather than having the sublime and unworldly skill of Socrates, Gary Speed was the man who exemplified the highest levels of professionalism and effort  in the history of the English Premier League.  He won the last English First Division championship to be played before the EPL with one of my favourite teams, Leeds United.  He went on to play for Everton, Newcastle, Bolton, and ended his career with Sheffield United.  It was during his time at Newcastle that Speed really caught my attention.  Speed had a brilliant head for the game, which is why he lasted so long at the top levels.  His smart passing skills, his economical use of the ball, and his goalscoring abilities made him the complete EPL midfielder.  He also had the work effort and toughness that football managers dream about in a player.  He played for and coached his national side, Wales.  Speed was the kind of player we football purists enjoyed watching no matter what team he was playing for.

Speed outwardly seemed calm, cool and collected as you like, yet his tragic end told another story, of a soul so tortured he felt he had to end it all at the young age of 42.  It just proves that while we expect our sporting heroes to be as tough as steel, they all have complex emotional lives which make them just as vulnerable as the rest of us to such things as depression or other psychological illness.

I spent many a happy occasion watching and admiring the great Welshman.  I want to thank him for bringing me many hours of football pleasure, and for being a player I will always fondly remember.

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