The world over if someone were asked to name the ten greatest players to have ever played a beautiful game, the names would be Pele, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo (Brazilian), Franz Beckenbauer, Eusebio, Johan Cruyff, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Michel Platini.
These are the players who excelled at their trade and reached levels never seen or imagined before. But if you were to ask a Brazilian who is the greatest Brazilian player of all time don’t be surprised to hear the name Garrincha, a player who may not have been as technically gifted as Pele or Ronaldo but he had the gift of inventiveness, explosive pace, dribbling skills beyond anyone’s ability and a keen eye for goal. Sadly outside Brazil and academic discussions, Garrincha is mostly forgotten despite being a double FIFA World Cup Winner.
Like many Brazilian footballers, Garrincha was born in poverty in Pau Grande in the city of Magé; southeast of Brazil and in the state of Rio de Janeiro as Manoel Francisco dos Santos on 23rd October, 1933 to an alcoholic father. Small for his age, his sister Rosa dubbed him “Garrincha” after a little bird and the name stuck. Born with defects (deformed spine, right leg bent inwards and the left leg was six centimeters shorter than the right one) Garrincha was not interested in football during his early days and worked in a factory at the age of fourteen and was married. He became a parent by the age of nineteen perhaps due to the unawareness of his own ability with the ball. Also notable during this time was his fondness for local alcoholic beverage Cachaça which would wreak havoc in his life later just like it did in his father’s.
He signed with Botafogo in 1953 after being rejected by a host of clubs due to his physical disability. The story goes that on the day of club’s first training session of the year, being conducted by the club coach Gentil Cardoso’s son Newton who had no power in trading players on behalf of the club. But the coach had heard about Garrincha humbling Nilton Santos during training and at Nilton Santos’s insistence asked him to train again. After being satisfied with what he saw Cardoso signed Garrincha and drafted him in to the reserve team. He scored a hat-trick on his debut for the reserve team and exhibited his complete range of skills and tricks on the right wing with his mazy runs and explosive pace. It was his perseverance which led to him use his physical disability to his advantage. He was overlooked by Brazil National Football team for the 1954 FIFA World due the presence of the experienced Julio Botelho on the right wing. The team was eliminated in first elimination round after a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Hungary consisting of the great Ferenc Puskas. Garrincha continued his scintillating performances at the club and scored 20 goals in 26 games in 1957 season and again on the recommendation of Nilton Santos he was inducted in the squad for 1958 edition of the FIFA World Cup. More than any other goal he scored during his playing career, Garrincha was known for a goal he scored in a match against AFC Fiorentina in the built up to the World Cup. During this match Garrincha beat 4 defenders and then charged towards the goalkeeper waiting for the defenders to rush back. While the defenders rushed back he finally placed the ball in goal. While the goal was audacious it did not go well with the national team’s manager who deemed it as an irresponsible behavior and dropped Garrincha for the opening two matches of the tournament.
The squad consisting of Didi, Zagallo, Vava and a 17 year old called Pele (relatively less known internationally), went on to win the World Cup after a 5-2 win over the hosts Sweden with a phenomenal performance by Garrincha who played a vital role through his right wing play in the team. After the final whistle, while his fellow players were celebrating with national flag draped on their backs, Garrincha stood in confusion not knowing the significance of the competition. While his performances on pitch were winning him plaudits, his personal life was a mix of alcoholism and promiscuity. While abroad he got a Swedish girl pregnant, his wife gave birth to their fifth child and his mistress announced her pregnancy. He got in to drinking and gained weight which resulted in the national side dropping him and his performance levels trickled down in his club.
As the year 1962 rolled in, Garrincha was recalled by the national side for that year’s FIFA World Cup held in Chile. Brazil and Chile automatically qualified owing to the fact that Brazil being the current holders and Chile being the hosts. Brazil’s previous manager Vincete Feola bade farewell to the team and the Brazilian FA appointed ex-Botafogo right winger Aymoré Moreira in his place. Brazil started the World Cup with a 2-0 win over Mexico and drew the next match 0-0 against Czechoslovakia which made the next match a must win for them in order to qualify for the next round. Brazil started the match against Spain without their star Pele and Garrincha accepted the mantle of leading the team to glory. In the match, Spain took lead in the first half but Garrincha showcased his skills with the ball by beating a defender and then waiting for the defender to regain his position only to beat him again before crossing the ball to Amarildo to score the winning goal five minutes before time. In the quarter finals, Brazil defeated England 3-1 after a brace from Garrincha and faced the host Chile in the semis. Garrincha again bamboozled his opponents and went on to score, forcing a local newspaper to ask “What planet is Garrincha from?”. Brazil beat Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the finals to win the World Cup second time in succession. He was the joint top scorer of the tournament and was also voted player of the tournament.
In the domestic matches, he won every trophy with Botafogo between 1962 and 1965 and left the club to join Corinthians at the age of 33 where he played only 10 games. He was certified good enough to be selected for the 1966 FIFA World Cup despite being short of fitness and struggling with a knee injury. The tournament was a disaster for the team as they were eliminated in the first round and Garrincha drew curtains over his international career. He played for few local clubs before ending his career in 1972 at the age 39. The following year a match was held between FIFA world team and the Brazil National team of that time in his honor.
His entire life was plagued with alcoholism to the extent that he ran over his own father once and had no memory of the incident after coming to his senses. In between he got separated from his wife of 13 years, Nair, in 1965 and married Samba singer Elza Sores in an unofficial ceremony. In 1969 he was involved in another car accident and the crash killed his mother-in-law. He eventually separated from Elza Sores in 1977 after he struck her. He had various other affairs resulting in him fathering fourteen children while the unofficial estimate is 36. Garrincha passed away on 20th January, 1983 at the age 49 as a forgotten and penniless hero due to alcohol abuse. But at his funeral, thousands of fans and former players turned out to remember his life and pay their respect. His epitaph reads “Here rests in peace the one who was the Joy of the People – Mané Garrincha.”
In the era of globalization, Pele, Ronaldo, Neymar Jr. are the symbols of Brazilian football. But in sense of pure joy, love for the game sans the monetization of its players, Garrincha will always be the only player who brought joy to people through his genius, through his ability to put the fans of the opposition under his spell and by lifting the game to the ideals it was meant to live up to.