Football players and drugs shouldn’t mix, but unfortunately, they often do. Stars like Maradona, Sócrates (1954-2011), and Garrincha (1933-1983) have more in common than their ability to play ball: they have also suffered the fallout from substance abuse. The most recent example of this ugly liaison seems to be Adriano, whose apparent problems with alcohol have been the source of much speculation in the Brazilian press.
In the new autobiography, Casagrande e Seus Demônios (‘Casagrande and His Demons’ [in Portuguese only], Globo, R$34.90), written by the ex-player and football commentator Walter Casagrande, with Gilvan Ribeiro, Casagrande shows that drugs can get the best of any player.
In the book, Casagrande recounts in detail how he fell in deep with cocaine and heroin, having retired from playing professional football. Already established in his career as a commentator for Globo TV, he overdosed no less than four times.
The last time, which resulted in a terrible car accident, landed him in rehab for a year, half of which was spent without any contact with family and friends. ‘One of the most important steps to recovery is to look yourself in the mirror and admit that you have a serious drug problem,’ writes the ex-athlete, admitting that for him, the battle isn’t over yet.
Road to recovery
At the same time, his intention in writing the book is not to set an example for others, he claims. He isn’t out to lecture on the importance of fighting drugs, or to provide self-help for other drug abusers on the path to recovery. And while he isn’t proud of some of the things he’s done, he says he doesn’t regret anything.
Touching on another aspect of his life, two of the book’s chapters describe how Casagrande made a name for himself by consistently providing lively defence for teams such as Corinthians, São Paulo, Torino (Italy), and Flamengo, not to mention the Brazilian national team.
Off the pitch, he used the same energy to get involved in politics. Casagrande fought for greater respect and freedom for footballers in the 1980s, along with his clubmates, Wladimir and Sócrates – the latter of whom was his most important partner on the field and, in Casagrande’s own words, a close friend.
Within Corinthians, they succeeded in abolishing concentração for married players (a practice whereby players were effectively locked up in a hotel for days before a game), the banning of drinking and smoking in public, and obtained permission to actively participate in voting on team hiring and firing decisions.
Casagrande was also part of the Democracia Corintiana movement, which fought against Brazil’s military dictatorship. Players attended rallies and printed slogans such as ‘Rights Now’, and ‘I Want To Vote For President’ on their shirts.
Casagrande’s politics landed his name on the blacklist of DOPS (the Department of Political and Social Order, a police branch in charge of political repression during Brazil’s military regime), and also led to him doing time in prison for the possession of cocaine, which he maintains was a set-up.
At his athletic peak, Casagrande helped spread the importance of democracy. Today, with his story, he hopes to convey the message that honesty is just as fundamental.