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We’re reaching the end of our Sibling Rivalry series with a look back at two brothers with World Cup glory and glorious failure at the heart of their stories.
Sócrates is regarded as one of football’s greats, named in Pelé’s FIFA 100. In many ways he was the complete footballer. Socrates left a mark on the game through his class on and off the pitch in equal measure. Whilst their careers only briefly overlapped, a history is shared with his younger brother, Rai. Therefore, it’s not on the field where the pair’s rivalry could be said to have played out, rather the legacies they left behind.
Rai achieved what his brother couldn’t – winning the World Cup in the USA in 1994. Following a recent high profile move to Paris St. Germain, Rai’s personal campaign dwindled as the tournament continued. Captain in Brazil’s opening group stage game, Rai would ultimately watch the final from the subs bench, having handed the armband to Dunga. Although a World Cup winner, Rai wasn’t crucial to Brazil’s success. This was particularly disappointing considering 1994 was set up to be Rai’s 1982 – the World Cup finals here Socrates became such a central and iconic figure.
Despite this, Rai still has a claim to a great legacy. Whilst Socrates’ reputation is primarily built upon international football, Rai excelled in club competition. From 1993 to 1998 Rai played a prominent role for PSG, and is regarded as a club legend from before the time of Neymar, Ibrahimovic and all that Qatari investment. Prior to this Rai was instrumental in the early 90s for Tele Santana’s Sao Paulo, captaining the side to the Brazilian league title in 1991 and Copa Libertadores victory the following year which saw his career arguably reach its pinnacle. Continental and global success was achieved in 1992: Sao Paulo defeated Barcelona 2-1 in Tokyo to win the Intercontinental Cup to add to their Copa Libertadores success. Rai was named Man of the Match, scoring both of Sao Paulo’s goals. During his spell in France, Rai won the French first division and enjoyed continental success – this time in Europe – in 1996 as PSG won the Cup Winners’ Cup. Undoubtedly Rai’s club career eclipses Socrates based on club honours. This is not to say Socrates had a poor club career by any means; after all, almost 300 goals from midfield is hardly a failure. Arguably, Socrates simply never had the platform to achieve like his brother, who played in a more multinational club football period.
Socrates’ reputation is coated by the romanticism of the World Cup and Brazil as a footballing nation. The 1980s was a time when Brazilian football was still a rare four-year export, and Socrates’ side played with greater freedom of expression than Rai’s 1994 side. While in 1994 Brazil adopted a pragmatic approach, Socrates’ followed the Brazilian ideology of beautiful samba football, which captured the hearts of fans worldwide. They were the people’s champions, playing some of the most joyous football ever seen by a Brazilian team or any other for that matter.
Socrates had a brief and unsuccessful spell at Fiorentina, perhaps exposing his flawed club career. Yet it is undisputed that Socrates was a sensational footballer, with intelligence, technique and physical prowess that exceeded most of those around him. Socrates was remarkable to watch, and although his brother was also a superb footballer, very few players had the impact that Socrates had. Pivotal in the exhilarating 1982 Brazil side, regarded by many as the best not to win a World Cup, Socrates was even able to eclipse the likes of teammates Zico, Falcao and Eder. Despite Rai’s considerable talents, Socrates was superior and certainly more iconic.
Off the pitch Socrates was also a hugely significant and charismatic figure. With a degree in medicine and a huge political thinker, Socrates was more than a footballer. He was an intellectual, a drinker and a heavy smoker – “I smoke, I drink, I think”. In comparison, Rai is far less surrounded by the almost mythical aura that built up around his brother.
Legacies are built upon performance on the greatest stage. When Rai’s opportunity came, he shrank. Whilst Socrates wasn’t ultimately a winner, he stuck to an ideology that captivated a generation of fans; he was the conductor of the last ‘true’ Brazilian side. Socrates’ recent passing emphasised his impact on the game as the world mourned. Without doubt Rai remains a club hero at PSG, but his personal failure at the World Cup taints his contribution, especially considering his flair was unable to shine through such a pragmatic approach. With Russia 2018 on the horizon, the comparison of Socrates and Rai demonstrates the power that World Cups possess to make or break a player’s sporting legacy.