“The Joy of People” Garrincha :- A man who had run the gauntlet of fame and fortune and returned to his starting place.
“In some countries they wanted to touch him, in some they wanted to kiss him. In others they even kissed the ground he walked on. I thought it was beautiful, just beautiful,” Clodoaldo commented on the adulation he witnessed.
Such was the euphoria around Pele that any other player – irrespective of the fact that how good he is – always remained on the sidelines while playing alongside “The King Pelé”. But still there was a player who was as good as “O Rei”, if not better.
In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different and Manuel Francisco dos Santos was different right from his birth. His left leg was six centimetres shorter than his right leg, and curved unnaturally outwards. His right leg bent inwards, and his spine was deformed. And yet none of these issues impeded his ability to play football at the highest level.
For many, few figures are tied to that better than Garrincha – a man beloved by Brazil as a nation and one who embodied the spirit of the game in the country.
Obviously, with those defects, no-one thought he would grow up to become one of the best football players ever. Nor did Garrincha think that he would become a legendary footballer. At first he didn’t even want to.
“In the entire history of football no one made more people happy,” said Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. He was speaking about an angel. Not an ordinary one, but an angel with bent legs (in Portuguese, um anjo de pernas tortas).
Garrincha was immensely popular in Brazil. While Pele is generally remembered as the most complete player of all time, Garrincha often overshadowed his colleague as a rebel who wouldn’t miss a chance to make his opponents look like fools. He was perhaps the finest dribbler the world has ever seen.
Born in the town of Pau Grande on October 28, 1933, with crooked legs, “Garrincha” began his life on the same path as the rest of the young men in the town: attending shcool (although Mané, as he was known, was not particularly fond of it), and on his fourteenth birthday beginning work in the local factory América Fabril. However he was not a diligent worker, and spent most of his time, as he had in his childhood, playing football whenever possible.
In his childhood between swimming in rivers and kicking makeshift footballs the angel with the bent legs nicknamed after a doleful and pitiful little bird used to kill these creatures known as Garrinchas. The symbolism and irony of the act are too powerful.
The privation he endured as a penniless and starving urchin was honed into a potency which allowed him to gain a place on teams through ability and sporting prowess -, as his natural ability to hustle on the street morphed into invaluable body swerves, imbuing him with the guile to throw bewitching and contorted spells on the pitch.
One of the most talented footballers the world has ever seen, the splendour of his intuitive imagination crystallising into outrageously joyous acts, sporting taunts on the pitch. In games he would regularly fake to shoot. Sometimes he would even fake not to shoot, and score. But that was only after he had his fun. Goals were the necessary climax but he much preferred the foreplay.
In Garrincha’s case he left a magic encased in old men’s recollections and dreams. Sepia memoirs that are now living on as digitally re-mastered second millennium bite size links.
Scouts all over Brazil knew of him, and he was something of a legend between them. Many refused to believe the stories about him until they saw him themselves. One is quoted as saying “there is an unknown player who lives in the woods, has bent legs, is totally un-markable and dribbles like the devil.”
Eventually scouts saw him, then believed. His immense talent was showing through at even this young age. However, it took time to convince Garrincha to play professionally. At 19 years old, he signed a contract with Botafogo. He was already married with a child.
He moved from his local team of Pau Grande to Botafogo in 1953, where he was a sensation from his first trial, where, after one half of play, the coach sent him to meet the directors to sign a contract that day.
In his debut first-team game of his career he scored a hat-trick. Garrincha had arrived.
His dribbling was unparalleled and unstoppable, and he would regularly beat an opponent, wait for them to return to their position, and beat them again. Although his crooked legs often led people to believe that he wouldn’t pose a problem, he bewildered them with his movement.
His play was sensual but possessed a violence of movement that sent cumbersome defenders running into thin air, like dogs tracking and hounding a rabbit that deceives them by changing direction suddenly, cunningly and without warning.
His favourite trick was to run off and leave the ball behind, forcing the defender to run with him. He would repeat it several times before eventually moving with the ball, leaving the defender standing still and the crowd cheering and laughing. He was an amateur footballer in the best sense of the word, and derived pure joy from the game, from dribbling past opponents.
Mané Garrincha ● a alegria do povo
Happy birthday to "the joy of the people"!pic.twitter.com/oXJZLnwiQy
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStat) October 28, 2017
Despite terrorizing defences every week for Botafogo with his electric pace, deceptive dribbling and powerful shot, he was overlooked for the 1954 Brazil World Cup squad. This was due to Brazil’s new system they played, which it was thought Garrincha may not fit into, and because they had other talented right-wingers to choose from.
Garrincha continued to put in jaw-dropping performances, however, helping his team to success in the O’Higgins Cup in 1955.
It was this year when he gained his first Brazil cap. He was finally judged to have impressed enough to make it into the national squad and was given his debut against Chile.
For the next few years, Garrincha was in and out of the Brazilian team and continuing to mesmerize the fans with his ball control. In 1957 he helped Botafogo to win the Campeonato Carioca.
In the build-up to the 1958 World Cup, Garrincha had to have his tonsils removed. He sat unblinking as he watched the needle ease into his mouth. He lost a lot of blood and when he returned to the loving arms of the selecao he was nine pounds lighter. Pele asked him if he was ok. Garrincha smiled and replied, “I fulfilled a childhood dream – I got to eat ice cream after having my tonsils out”.
Garrincha was called into the World Cup Squad for 1958 – and became an instant sensation. However, he was left out of the first two games, reportedly due to his coaches punishing him for irresponsible play in a goal he scored a month previously.
This is one of his most famous goals. In a warm up match before Sweden ’58, Brazil played Fiorentina. Late in the second half Garrincha beat the Viola players, Robotti, Magnini, Cervato before selling an outrageous dummy to the keeper Sarti. He now had an open goal in front of him but he chose to wait for the onrushing Robotti. With a feint of the shoulders the Brazillian left the Italian to run into the post, nearly knocking himself out in the process. He then passed the ball serenely into the net, as if there was no other option for his fun to continue.
Calmly he lifted the ball with his foot into his hands, stuck it under his arm and walked back to the centre circle, head lowered out of respect. The crowd was momentarily stunned before it erupted at what it had just seen. Never mind they were now 4-0 down the Viola fans stood as one and acclaimed the little bird with wild abandon. They knew they had just seen magic.
Although he didn’t play for the first two games, Garrincha earned his spot for the third, and most crucial game – a group decider against the USSR. Sputnik had been launched the year before, and The Soviets were feared as mysterious idols with their “scientific football”. Garrincha, in all his naivety asked, “might these guys be good?”
Brazil needed to start well if their shadowy Cold War Supermen could run for 90 minutes. What followed has been described as the best three minutes in Brazilian footballing history. In the space of 180 seconds Garrincha beat defender Kutnetzov four times, left Voinov on his back complete with accompanying laughter from the 50,000 crowd in Gothenburg, and hit the post.
However, Garrincha could not be figured out by any computer. He was able to run the defenders in rings, and leave them fighting amongst themselves as to who should be marking who. At one stage in the match, Garrincha sat his opponent down with his skill, turned around, offered him his hand to help him up, and ran on with the ball.
Pele then hit the bar as the Brazilians kept attacking. Legendary keeper Lev Yashin was already soaked in sweat and was so disorientated he congratulated Pele after Vava scored their first on three minutes. French Legend Gabriel Hannot later said they were the greatest three minutes in the history of football. Brazil won 2-0.
After he gave Welsh fullback Mel Hopkins a torrid time in the quarter final, Hopkins had this to say: “He’s a phenomenon, capable of sheer magic. It was difficult to know which way he was going to go because of his legs and because he was as comfortable on his left foot as his right, so he could cut inside or go down the line and he had a ferocious shot too.”
In the final Garrincha set up the two Brazil goals which led them to World Cup glory. At the final whistle and the celebrations, Garrincha was reportedly bemused. He thought it was a league competition and they would have to play everyone twice.
Despite his lack of desire to know the “details” of the game, Garrincha was named in the World Cup All-Star team.
He also won silverware with his club in 1958, triumphing in the Oswaldo Cruz Cup. He followed this up with success in the O’Higgins Cup the next year.
However, this was a rare highlight in 1959 for Garrincha. He began drinking more than before, putting on weight and often being found in a drunken state. One night he got into a car drunk, and drove off with an angry mob chasing him. He ran over his father but didn’t stop.
When he was later halted, he had no recollection of what had occurred. But his problems off the pitch were soon overshadowed by his performances on it again. In 1961 he won the Campeonato Carioca, the O’Higgins Cup and the Oswald Cruz Cup with Botafogo.
But 1962 was to be his best year. At club level he was simply unplayable, helping his team to another Campeonato Carioca, another Oswaldo Cruz Cup, and a first Torneio Rio-Sao Paulo.
But this was nothing compared to his success internationally. At the World Cup he was on the best form of his career. He was scoring freely, with both feet and his head, and laying on yet more goals.
He was the stand-out performer of the World Cup as Brazil went onto win. Garrincha had won his second consecutive World Cup, and was named Player of the World Cup, World Cup joint Top Scorer and World Player of the Year.
Garrincha represented the typical Brazilian Ginga playing style. He was all about entertainment & joy.
Every Brazilian identified with him. pic.twitter.com/j2KfhQgGfY
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStat) October 28, 2017
He stayed at Botafogo until 1965, winning another Torneio Rio-Sao Paulo before he left for Corinthians. In his time at Botafogo he scored 232 goals in 581 appearances. He never reached the heights of 1962 again, moving from club to club between 1966 and his eventual retirement in 1973.
Happy birthday to the legendary Garrincha. 🎂🇧🇷 pic.twitter.com/boeGFPARtn
— Historic Football (@IndividualsFC) October 28, 2017
Despite this he was named in the 1966 Brazilian World Cup squad. He played two matches, bringing his total number of caps up to 50. His last match for Brazil was against Hungary in which they lost 3-1. It was the first and only game Brazil lost while Garrincha was playing for them.
Pele was not playing in that game, which meant him and Garrincha share a rare record of having never lost when playing together.
Garrincha was always a contradiction. This streetwise colloso was also muito ingenuo , even on the pitch. In the final against Sweden it was said that Garrincha didn’t even know who the opponents were, and at the finish he meandered around the pitch asking “is it the end?”
However, his personal life was not as brilliant as his performances on the pitch. He was, at heart, a rural boy, but he also inherited a reliance on alcohol from his father which was eventually to kill him.
His love affair and marriage to singer Elza Soares was the stuff of tabloids, but his drunken car crash in 1968, which killed his mother-in-law was not. Towards the end of his career, his drinking ruined any chance of continuing in football, and his name soon became synonymous with farcical contracts, having been sold to Corinthians, appearing once for Colombian club América, and also having a short spell at Flamengo.
Many other clubs offered him contracts, but having seen his fitness and bloated appearance from alcoholism, they decided against taking the risk. Garrincha had come crashing to earth having won the World Cup in 1958 and again in 1962. It was a rags to riches story which had turned on its head again by the end.
He played football for Botafogo and Brazil the same way he lived his life, pleasing himself and not following any team tactics or orders. Back in his homeland Pau Grande, there are wild claims that he lost his virginity to a goat. His father was an alcoholic and the player himself drunk a bottle a day of Brazil’s most popular distilled alcoholic beverage, cachaca. His love affair and marriage to legendary samba singer Elza Soares was the main subject of daily tabloids.
He, who left a wake of ruin on the pitch did not cope well with such destruction off it, and the wretched creature full of cachaça and misguided thoughts tried to kill himself. He failed but his actions would achieve the same outcome eventually.
Yet he also won the World Cup twice. In Sweden in 58 he was the best in the world in his position. Four years later in Chile he was simply the best in the world.
Was it alchemy or witchcraft he practiced when playing jogo bonito ? A Chilean newspaper speaking of magical realism before many knew what it was, asked in 62 “which planet is he from?”
Although Garrincha had run the gauntlet of fame and fortune and returned to his starting place, his funeral was still attended by thousands of mourners who blocked the traffic on the local highway for hours in a procession. It was indeed alcohol which killed him in the end, dying of a pulmonary oedema on the 20th of January 1983.
While many footballers have also struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, similar to Garrincha, few are remebered as fondly as he was. As the last of what was perhaps a generation of worker footballers, he represented the amateur love of the game and the professional desire to succeed. He also represented a hope, to rise beyond stigma of race and appearance, to become a star.
Pele once said: “Garrincha was an incredible player, one of the best there has ever been. He could do things with the ball that no other player could do and without Garrincha, I would have never been a three-times world champion.”
Yet the football gods, capricious creatures they are, can also cast heroes back to penury and derision, usually through an addiction or two, laid back excess and a turbulent private life.
In 1980, suffering from delirium tremens and haemorrhaging he was asked to take part in the Rio carnival. As he sat stupefied with medicine on his float, as millions watched horrified from the side-lines and on television, Pele, in a VIP box threw him a garland. Garrincha was too spaced out to even notice. The camera cut back to Pele who by then was shaking his head sadly saying “oh my god”, at the horror of it all.
What a strange thing it must be to be discarded by strangers, abandoned by family and loved by an entire nation. Yet there he sat in an alcoholic stupor or drugged with medication depending on who you believe, unaware of his own obsolescence. Unaware of anything. Too drunk or dazed to understand even pity or revulsion.
The only predictable aspect of Garrincha’s life was his death: destitute, intoxicated and abandoned. This double world champion was already mired in the poverty that formed him, and less than three years later his body failed him. He died penniless and alone.
Millions lined the route on the day of his funeral, and on his gravestone it reads “Here rests in peace the one who was the Joy of the People – Mané Garrincha.”