A raised closed fist holds powerful meaning in Brazilian football and is synonymous with one of the greatest cult idols the beautiful game has ever known: Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, captured the imagination of a whole generation of football supporters beyond his homeland as a true icon.

While he used a clenched fist to celebrate the most euphoric moment of a match, Sócrates also took advantage of his protagonism and adopted the universal symbol as his trademark celebration to send a message of solidarity, unity and, above all, resistance.

Better known in Europe for captaining the 1982 Brazil team, one of the greatest teams never to win the World Cup, the larger-than-life midfield maestro is also remembered in Brazil for his social and political activism.

Shortly before he died in 2011 at the age of 57 due to a septic shock from an intestinal infection following liver problems related to decades of heavy drinking and bohemian excesses, he still kept trying to inspire his subsequent generations of footballers to engage in social justice.

“They have political power in their hands," he said. "There is a stage and there is an audience. If politicians had that power, they’d make hay with it. But on the contrary, footballers live in ghettos. And that I think is because of their lack of education growing up and because they have no idea of their social importance.”

Born in the Amazonian city of Belém, his upbringing was more privileged than that of many Brazilian players, who often rise from abject poverty. Emerging in the 1970s as a promising young player in Ribeirão Preto, in the interior of São Paulo State, he studied medicine while playing for local club Botafogo before attaining his medical degree at 24 years-old.

Following that, he moved to Corinthians, the famous Sao Paulo club with a vast amount of supporters among Brazil's poor, in a period when anger and resistance were coalescing against the military dictatorship that ruled the country. That led Sócrates to led the Corinthians Democracy, the movement that gave players a say. They voted on everything from approving signings to how long they should train.

With a broader understanding of society, the legendary number 8 urged his teammates to show support for democratisation by wearing shirts with "Democracia" written on them during matches. In 1984, when Brazil reached 20 years immersed in a military regime in which the population didn't have the right to choose the country's president, Sócrates spoke out in support of Diretas Já (Free Elections Now). He went to the tribunes, wielding microphones, to address the masses.

On the field, the last great political footballer was known as a wily strategist who could elegantly employ his signature move, a back-heel pass. But he always looked ahead, hoping for a brighter future.