Since 4 December 2011 Casagrande has been living with a feeling of emptiness. Ten years on from the death of his former Brazil and Corinthians teammate Sócrates, he is still struggling to deal with the loss.
“I miss talking to him,” he says. “I think about him many times a week, mainly when something good happens to me. He is the man that comes into my mind at these good moments. Sometimes I get my mobile to call him, but I remember that I can’t, that he isn’t here any more. I would like to share things with him – only with him. There are some issues that I can talk about only to him. It’s sad. I can’t say these things to others because no one will understand me like he did. No one was on the same frequency with me as he was.”
Sócrates was the captain of Brazil’s memorable 1982 World Cup squad, but he was more than a footballer. He was the leader of Corinthians Democracy, a movement in the 80s that fought against Brazil’s military dictatorship, which tortured more than 20,000 people and murdered or disappeared almost 500 between 1964 and 1985.
For six years Sócrates had balanced football with medical studies, playing locally for Botafogo before he graduated from the Universidade de São Paulo in 1977. He then joined Corinthians and his background was essential to Corinthians Democracy’s development.
“Our movement was successful because of many points, but the most fundamental was Sócrates,” Casagrande says. “We needed a genius like him, someone politicised, smart and admired. He was a shield for us. Without him, we couldn’t have Corinthians Democracy.
“But as a football team we needed to win, too. Imagine calling for democracy under a military dictatorship – to fail as a team was unthinkable. We needed to be better than everyone. If we didn’t play well and win, we would be killed by the dictatorship.”
Casagrande and Sócrates played together for only three years but it was an intense period. Casagrande, the younger by nine years, broke into the Corinthians first team in 1982, sparking a partnership memorable on and above all off the field.
“Our relationship wasn’t of father and son or like an older brother,” he says. “It was a history of love in which both of us were very happy; both received a lot of love. My relationship with Magrão [Sócrates’s nickname] was pure love. We were a good match because we were genuine – we had passion for each other.”
The “history of love” is the name of the book, Sócrates & Casagrande – uma história de amor, that Casagrande wrote with the journalist Gilvan Ribeiro in 2016.
Corinthians Democracy gave a lot to Casagrande. He was passionate about the arts, and the movement opened doors for him to meet artists, musicians and politicians. His rebelliousness and ideas attracted widespread attention in 1982, when the group that helped topple the dictatorship was founded. “Win or lose, but always with democracy,” read a flag carried by the Corinthians team the following year.
Casagrande is proud of what he did for the country and recognises it is hard to create a similar movement today. He considers it shameful, though, that few Brazilian players choose to speak out on issues beyond football nowadays.
“Players prefer their mobile phones to anything else,” he says. “Everything is Instagram and social media. They don’t care about the people. They don’t have any identification with the Brazilian people. It’s the most alienated generation of all time because they are playing abroad and when they are here in Brazil they ignore the people, walking with earphones to not hear anything. Come on! Look at how we are living in Brazil. How is it possible to be silent?”
Casagrande had a formative encounter with the military dictatorship in 1979 during a concert in São Paulo demanding amnesty for politicians, musicians and artists. The event ended after an invasion by police, who aggressively beat the crowd.
“I was shocked because I was only 16 years old. We were there only calling for amnesty. No one was a criminal, no one had stolen anything, no one was a fugitive. So why did the police beat us? That was my first experience and I then understood that I needed to fight for my rights.”
For a while after democracy was restored Casagrande stayed away from political discussion. With the progressive governments of Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, he lay low. But his attitude changed when Jair Bolsonaro launched his candidacy for president in 2018.
“I can’t be silent today,” he says. “That’s impossible as I am one more victim of this terrible government. After 2018, I decided to stand up against Jair Bolsonaro because he attacked me on social media. He posted and edited a video on social media, a fake news, provoking me and calling on many people to insult me. Bolsonaro is a liar. He is a man who believes that he can do anything, that we don’t need to have any limits, that we can be homophobic, racist and anti-science.”
Since then, Casagrande has been an enemy of the Brazilian government and its supporters. Whenever he posts something on the internet or says something against the president, he suffers a wave of attacks.
“It’s torture, psychological torture; a dirty game,” he says. “I can’t say anything without many people insulting me on social media. The first time, I accessed my mobile phone and I got a shock. I received a deluge of attacks. In the beginning it hurt me – it hurt a lot. They called me drugged, drunk, addicted and said that I had used cocaine when I wrote the text, that I was crazy, that I finance drug trafficking. But today I don’t care. I think it is proof that I have overcome my problem. They are wasting their time attacking me because I don’t care about them.
“I don’t care if many players support Bolsonaro. That’s the democracy I fought for in the past. It’s a right. My problem is when you attack our democracy, our values, gay people, black people and don’t have respect for each other. We are living in a period that is worse than the military dictatorship. I’ve never seen what is going on today before. We are facing a disaster in all aspects: social, political, environmental and economical. There is a hate culture.”
Asked what Sócrates would be doing if he were alive, Casagrande has no doubt. “He would be on the streets organising protests against Bolsonaro. I’m sure of it. He would be more active than me because I have some limits. TV Globo never said anything to me, but I can’t do a few things because I am a voice of the company. It would be nice to walk side by side with Magrão fighting for democracy again.”
In the 90s, the paths of Casagrande and Sócrates parted for a specific reason. Casagrande jumped into drugs after retiring from football, revealing in his autobiography the long trips with cocaine, heroin and alcohol. Sócrates never supported Casagrande over his involvement with drugs, though he too was an addict. Sócrates was an alcoholic, an addiction that took his life, from a septic shock.
“Throughout my life, I created many excuses for our distance,” Casagrande says. “We never fought or argued, but we were suffering from our addictions. I was immersed in drugs. I didn’t want to live a normal life. Drugs make you isolate yourself from society, wanting only to use drugs. Alcohol is different, but you become boring; no one cares about you. It wasn’t my fault, neither his. We were very different from what we were when we met.”
Casagrande reconciled with Sócrates in the last year of his friend’s life but laments that they did not have more time to live a new life together.
“I have no doubt that I could have saved him because I’m a survivor, a living example of someone who overcame an addiction. Ten years ago, it was impossible because I was sick, addicted. But now I’m fine. I would show him that it is possible to grow older and live a good life. We could go to a library, discuss politics and drink a coffee. Yes, coffee, not beer, because some things are very different now.”