Callum Connolly remembers the career of one of the greatest Brazilian footballers of all time, Garrincha.
“He stood by the touchline dressed in the familiar black and white stripes of Botafogo Football Club, with the ball at his feet and his opponent opposite him. In a flash he bolted to the right and with the defender in hot pursuit he started to sprint down the wing. Two or three steps later he ran back. He had jumped over the ball and left it behind.
“Garrincha stood dead over the ball for a few seconds and then bolted down the wing again. Once more the defender followed him and once more Garrincha had left the ball exactly where it was. He took two or three quick paces towards the byline and then jauntily jogged back to the ball. He was obviously enjoying himself and the defender was just as obviously bemused and embarrassed.
“Garrincha stood with the ball at his feet for a second or two and then darted down the wing again, this time with the ball. The defender didn’t move a muscle.”
For Manoel Francisco dos Santos, life began arduously. Born on the 28th of October 1933, he grew up in Pau Grande, a district of Mage in the state of Rio de Janeiro. A birth defect resulted in his left leg curling inwards and the right being six centimetres shorter than the other. His spine was deformed, being shaped like the letter “s”, and his father was a raging alcoholic.
At an early age, his mother was told by doctors it wasn’t likely Manoel would even walk (let alone go on to become one of the greatest footballers the world has ever witnessed). He earned his nickname from his sister Rosa, and by the age of four his friends and family addressed him by the ironic title, as the little bird he was to be called after was a harmless, pitiful, and altogether useless creature.
Beginning work at the age of fourteen in a local factory during the same time as he began to drink cachaça, a popular drink in Brazil, whilst also allegedly losing his virginity to a goat, he was a father and husband by the age of nineteen but his enormous talent wasn’t fully recognised until then by local side Botafogo when they granted him a trial (who were only five years old themselves at the time) after being recommended by the club’s own coach Gentil Cardoso, who eventually became the first man to train Garrincha. Nilton Santos, widely regarded as one of the best wing back’s of all time, had this to say after facing him after the trial.
“He put the first ball he touched straight between my legs. A lot of people thought I would be offended but they were wrong. I told the directors there and then that they had to sign him.”
Santos personally dragged Garrincha to the president of Botafogo and urged them to pair the two on the same team so he wouldn’t have to face him again! Fortunately for Santos’, the president agreed and a star was about to erupt on the scene.
Making his debut against Bonsucesso on July 9 1953, he made an immediate impact, tormenting the defence and scoring a hat trick from the right wing in a 5-0 rout. This would be the beginning of his twelve year career with Botafogo and what instigated the creation of a Brazilian footballing hero. Despite his extravagant displays for his new team he was overlooked for selection at the 1954 World Cup thanks to the immense talents of Brazil’s first choice winger at the time, Júlio Botelho. Garrincha wasn’t to give up at this minor set back and would earn himself a call up to the Seleção Brasileira in a 1-1 draw against Chile the year after his World Cup snub.
“When he was on form, the pitch became a circus. The ball became an obedient animal, and the game became an invitation to party. Garrincha would shield his pet, the ball, and together they would conjure up some wonderful tricks that would have the spectators in stitches. He would hop over her, and she would bounce over him. Then she would hide before he would escape only to find her already running in front of him. Along the way, his pursuers would crash into each other in their attempts to stop him.”
That wonderful quote came from Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan writer, and he couldn’t have put it better. In preparation for the upcoming World Cup in 58′ in Sweden, Vicente Feola and his team took a three month tour of Europe to ready themselves for the tournament. In a friendly against Fiorentina, Garrincha beat Robotti, Magnini, and Cervato before dummying the goalkeeping Sarti. Robotti set out to try and stop Garrincha, but Manoel dropped his shoulder which resulted in Robotti running into the post, almost knocking the player out. With nothing left to do, he passed the ball into the empty net. He then lifted the ball into his hands and walked back to the centre-spot. Both fans were in shock for a moment, but then erupted into cheers. Fiorentina’s fans didn’t really care they were 4-0 down at that moment in time. Each and every one of them realised they had just seen something incredible.
Brazil hadn’t won the World Cup before 58′ so had begun IQ tests and psychological profiling of their players in a unique attempt to try and aid their progress. Garrincha failed both. In fact, his education level was below primary. What did intelligence matter, though, when you possessed such wisdom in your legs?
He dazzled those who watched him on the football pitch, but off it he brought a smile to people’s faces. It’s no wonder he had earned the nickname of Alegria do Povo, which means “Joy Of The People”. A few months before the tournament, Garrincha had to get his tonsils removed. Not using anesthesia, he watched the whole procedure as the needle entered his mouth. Afterwards, his friend Pele asked if he was okay, Garrincha smiled and replied, “I fulfilled a childhood dream – I got to eat ice cream after having my tonsils out”.
Vincente Feola decided to start without his two diamonds in the rough, Pele and Garrincha, and after winning in Brazil’s opening game 3-0 over Austria, and drawing 0-0 with England (the first goalless draw in the competition’s history), Feola decided to start the pair in the game against the Soviet Union, the pre-tournament favourites. What happened from the first whistle, according to French journalist Gabriel Honnot, was the finest three minutes in the history of football.
Ruy Castro wrote an exceptional book on the life of Garrincha, and the following extract came from inside the novel, originally written by Ney Bianchi, so my thanks to both for this exceptional description to describe Garrincha’s scintillating brilliance on the ball:
“Garrincha takes the ball with his instep: 20 seconds. Kuznetzov goes towards him. Garrincha feints left, but goes right. Kuznetzov falls to the ground. Garrincha takes the ball round Kuznetzov again: 27 seconds. And again: 30 seconds. And once more. The fans are on their feet. A startled Kuznetzov is on the ground: 32 seconds. Garrincha advances. Kuznetzov goes after him once more, this time supported by Voinov and Krijveski: 34 seconds. Garrincha pulls the ball this way, then that, and sets off with it down the right. The three Russians are scattered on the ground, Voinov with his backside in the air. The stadium bursts with laughter: 38 seconds.
Garrincha fires in a powerful shot from a tight angle. The ball rockets off Yashin’s left-hand post and goes out for a goal-kick: 40 seconds. The fans go mad. Garrincha returns to the middle of the park, as ungainly as ever. He is applauded. The fans are on their feet again. Garrincha moves forward with the ball. João Kuznetzov takes another tumble. Didi asks for the ball. He sends a curved pass over Igor Netto and the ball falls at Pelé’s feet. Pelé gives it to Vavá. Vavá to Didi, to Garrincha, back to Pelé, Pele shoots, the ball hits the bar and goes over. The pace is mind-boggling. As is Garrincha’s rhythm. Yashin’s shirt is soaked in sweat, as if he’s already been on the field for hours. The wave of attacks continues. Time after time Garrincha decimates the Russians. There is hysteria in the stadium. And an explosion when Vavá scores after exactly three minutes.”
Brazil went on the annihilate the hosts Sweden 5-2 in the final after a tight 1-0 win over Wales and a 5-2 win over France, with Garrincha and Pele the poster boys for the team’s success. Thinking the World Cup would be similar to the league format in which you would have to play the opponents twice, Garrincha was left puzzled as to why his team mates were celebrating after the final whistle! Brazil became the first side to win the trophy outside of their own continent, and a World Cup at the first attempt for the angel with bent legs, but trouble was to follow soon after
Post World Cup Issues
Sweden had brought a new kind of fame for Garrincha – one that off the pitch he did not embrace well. He began to drink heavily, putting on weight and forcing him out of the Brazil squad for a friendly against England in Rio in May 1959. Soon after, he returned to Sweden on a tour with Botafogo and got a local girl pregnant (He met with the child many years later, who had been adopted but knew Garrincha was his real father. The boy, or man at that stage, was unaffected psychologically and got on well with Manoel). On his return to Brazil, he drove over his father and didn’t stop to check if he was injured. His wife gave birth to a fifth child and his father then died as a result of his drinking.
After a turbulent four years after his last World Cup triumph, amidst all the stress and pain in Garrincha’s life he established himself as a Brazilian and World Cup legend in the summer of 1962. Chile was the destination this time round and Brazil were the favourites. 1958 had shown the Brazilians were a force to be reckoned with but after an injury to Pele in the third match and with Garrincha’s off field problems, would the reigning champions slip up? That was the desperate hope their opponents had, but after winning their group England would be the first side to experience the full wrath of Garrincha in the quarter-final.
He opened the scoring with a header from a corner before England equalized minutes before half-time. Vava then fired home a rebound from a rasping Garrincha drive before he scored one of the goals of the tournament – a technique called the banana shot – pausing before sending the Brazilian fans into rapturous celebrations. A hugely impressive feat considering how heavy footballs were in that time. The British press called him “Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and a snake charmer all rolled into one”.
In an amusing incident during the game, a stray dog decided to join the action. It evaded the attempts of officials and players alike to capture the pitch invader until England winger Jimmy Greaves got down on his hands and knees. Unfortunately for Greaves, the dog thought that would be an appropriate time to urinate all over Greaves’ shirt, an incident according to the former Blackpool winger that Garrincha found highly amusing, so much so that he ended up owning the dog after winning it in a team raffle after it was given to the squad from officials.
A ferocious 20-yard volley and another header from Garrincha aided Brazil in their 4-2 success over the hosts Chile in the semi- final, forcing the question from national newspaper El Mercurio “What planet is this Garrincha from?”. Despite suffering from severe fever, Manoel battled on to play in the final against Czechoslovakia. Brazil came from behind to defend their title and win their second World Cup, Garrincha named player of the tournament for his incredible displays, and rightly so.
The media that once adored him soon turned on him three years after his second World Cup win. Garrincha left his teenage love with who he had eight girls with for a famous Brazilian samba singer. Both had been married before so this had hugely negative effect on Garrincha’s popularity. A long term knee injury also forced him to take multiple injections before every game for Botafogo – not only was he contractually obliged to play, but he needed the money to support his ever growing drinking problem and his increasing family.
Under political pressure, Garrincha went to England 1966 but the player himself and team were a shadow of their past selves. 1966 was a real mess for Brazil.
João Havelange decided to sack Aymoré Moreira, who had won the World Cup as Vicente Feola’s replacement in 62′, and re-installed Feola. The 2-0 win over Bulgaria in which Pele and Garrincha both scored, (the latter’s being a wicked free kick with the outside of his boot) was the last the sublime pair would lined up on the same team as Pele was injured later on in the first game and Garrincha did not play the final match against a Portugal side containing the mercurial talent of Eusebio. In the 40 matches the two played together, they did not lose a single game. His final game was against Hungary following the Bulgaria win, losing 3-1.
“Garrincha was too unpredictable, even for us his team-mates. But there was no doubt he was the key to winning games for us. Of course he had a great team around him, but you simply can’t ignore his incredible talent.”
Mario Zagallo, Garrincha’s team-mate at the 1958 and 1962 FIFA World Cup finals.
That same year his tenure with Botafogo ended, joining Corinthians in what would be the first of six clubs he joined after his time at Estrela Solitária.
Juventus tried to sign him in 1954. Real Madrid wanted him in 1959 after his European tour with Botafogo. Inter, Juventus and AC Milan were willing to co-sign him in 1963, with Garrincha spending a season at each club. Even with all those offers from the European heavyweights, he remained loyal to Botafogo, for one reason or the other.
He called time on his magnificent career in 1973 when he was signed with Olaria – not because he was nearly 40 but because one of his many daughters Alexandra had given birth to a daughter (Garrincha himself had at least 14 children). “Being a professional footballer and a grandfather felt weird”. Only Garrincha!
His farewell game occurred at the Maracana in the team containing Pele, Carlos Alberto and several of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup winning team, who played a FIFA world team. The referee stopped the match in the first half so Garrincha could take a lap of the pitch before departing the pitch for a final time in front of thousands of his fans.
Pele 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.”
After a car crash with a lorry in which he killed his mother-in-law in 1969, he begun yet another slippery slope after which he would never recover from. In 1980, suffering from delirium tremens and haemorrhaging he was asked to take part in the Rio carnival. He had medicine by his side as he sat numbly, Pele threw him a garland, but Garrincha was too intoxicated by his medication to even notice. His old friend and team mate was left shaking his head saying “oh my god” in sheer disbelief and horror.
He died on the 20 January 1983. He had been rushed to hospital on eight occasions in the lead up to his demise. Before he passed, attached a drip in a Rio hospital, he asked to be buried where he grew up, in Pau Grande.
His remains were brought to the Maracana stadium for the funeral precession which attracted hundreds of thousands of fans, players, and coaches alike. His body left the stadium via fire engine, the same method of transport that carried him through Rio after Brazil’s 1958 success. People abandon their cars and ran miles to see the funeral. On his gravestone reads: “Here rests in peace the one who was the Joy of the People – Mané Garrincha.”
Garrincha was the man who proved an ordinary person can light up the world with a ball at his feet. He didn’t need wealth or power. He didn’t forget where he came from. A simple, unequivocal, footballing genius.
Callum Connolly, Pundit Arena.