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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 January 2008, 10:21 GMT
Remembering the genius of Garrincha

By Jonathan Stevenson

At first sight, he looked like he would barely be able to walk.

With his right leg pointing inwards and his left leg pointing outwards, Manuel Fransisco dos Santos seemed more destined to end up in a circus than on a football field.

Brazil legend Garrincha
Garrincha poses in a Botafogo shirt - he spent 12 years with them

But put a ball at his feet, and the man they called Garrincha - the little bird - could just about do anything.

On the 25th anniversary of his death, it is right that football remembers the pleasure he gave people and the non-conformity with which he played the game he loved so much.

The art form of dribbling might have been invented for the Brazilian, who played with a freedom of spirit and, at times, a reckless disregard for the "end product" that is difficult to fathom in a sport now dominated by results.

During one game he is said to have bamboozled his marker so much, the defender fell to the floor as Garrincha ran past him. Instead of carrying on, Garrincha dribbled back to his opponent, picked him up off the turf and then carried on down the wing.

His biographer, Rui Castro, described the man fans called 'the angel with bent legs' as "the most amateur footballer professional football ever produced".

Sadly for Garrincha, born in Pau Grande, a province of Rio de Janeiro on 28 October, 1933, this carefree attitude he had to football and life in general caused him many more problems than it did his opponents.

For Garrincha was an alcoholic.

He was as fond of the local Cachaša as his father, who lost his life to drink. They also both shared more than a passing interest in the opposite sex.

Garrincha was married to his childhood sweetheart Nair and she gave birth to eight daughters before he left her in 1965.


His decision to move in with Elza Soares, a famous Brazilian samba singer who had also been married before, had Garrincha cast as a villain by the same press that had once feted him.

Throw in countless other relationships and Garrincha is believed to have fathered at least 14 children.

Despite being unable to get his life into any semblance of order, Garrincha enjoyed remarkable success in his football career.

He helped his country to its first two World Cup triumphs in 1958 and 1962, was joint top scorer and named player of the tournament at the second and collected three Rio State Championships with Botafogo to boot.

But Garrincha was about so much more than trophies. He helped create the legend of beautiful football, the mythical status which the very name Brazil conjures up around the globe.

Before Garrincha and his team-mates arrived at the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden, Brazil were something of a laughing stock in terms of world football.

They were considered second-rate even on their own continent, with Uruguay the dominant force having won the first World Cup in 1930 and then, catastrophically for Brazil, beating the hosts in the Maracana in 1950 to claim their second crown.

Garrincha was more of a danger than Pele I believe at the time, a phenomenon, capable of sheer magic

Wales' Mel Hopkins, who faced Garrincha in 1958

The 1950 defeat on their own patch, dubbed 'The Fateful Final', had caused such long-lasting scars on the Brazilian game that they went to Sweden with a psychologist in tow, a move almost unheard of at the time.

They need not have worried. Garrincha was held back until the third game, against the powerful Russians, and in partnership with Didi, Vava and Pele, he destroyed them.

They edged past Wales 1-0, thrashed 13-goal Just Fontaine's France 5-2 and then battered Sweden 5-2 in the final in Stockholm to become the first team to win the World Cup outside their own continent.

Former Wales international left-back Mel Hopkins, who lined up directly against Garrincha on 19 June, 1958 in Gothenburg in the World Cup quarter-final, described to BBC Sport the force of nature he was up against that day.

"When he stood and faced you his legs went one way and his body the other, there's no doubt about it, he could have been declared a cripple. But my God could he play," said Hopkins, who also won the League and FA Cup double with Tottenham in 1961.

Garrincha takes on Wales' Mel Hopkins at the 1958 World Cup
Garrincha takes on Hopkins in the 1958 World Cup quarter-final

"He attacked with such pace and I believe he was more of a danger than Pele at the time - he was 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.

"Garrincha would have been a real star today, no question about it - a superstar."

Garrincha's place as one of football's all-time greats was assured at the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile. When Pele was injured in the second game, Garrincha took on his mantle as leader of the team and his dazzling displays inspired Brazil to their second crown.

He scored twice in the quarters against England, twice more in the semis against the hosts and, despite suffering from a fever, helped his side to a 3-1 win over Czechoslovakia in the finals.

The player of the tournament was undoubtedly now a superstar - and he acted like one, too. Garrincha spent money like it was going out of fashion on a variety of friends, hangers-on, girlfriends and his ever-increasing family.

I would not have been a three-time World Cup winner without Garrincha


By the time the 1966 World Cup came around he was a pale imitation of the real Garrincha, a long-term knee injury enough to curb the electric bursts of speed that had once made him so destructive.

His last game in a Brazil shirt was their 3-1 defeat by Hungary - the first time he had ever been on the losing side for his country in his 60th appearance.

Pele was injured and did not play in that game, meaning the pair of them never finished on the losing team together in yellow and blue.

Garrincha's career was effectively over, though he spent many years drifting around both South America and Europe trying to prolong it.

He needed money to support his alcoholism and his family, but he also needed work because it was the only time he could lay off the booze.

He was involved in several car crashes, running over his own father once, and then, in April 1969, Garrincha smashed into a lorry and his mother-in-law was killed, an incident which only accelerated his drinking.

Soares threw him out after he struck her in a drunken rage and they separated in 1977, Garrincha too consumed by alcohol to be of any use to anyone.

Six years later on 20 January, 1983 at the age of 49 - just 21 years after he was widely recognised as the greatest footballer on earth - Garrincha died of cirrhosis of the liver, attached to a drip in a Rio hospital.

One of the most extraordinary entertainers sport is ever likely to see passed away in misery, penniless and unable to conquer the demons that cut his life so tragically short.

Yet the anniversary of his death gives football a chance to pay tribute to one of its greatest sons.

Garrincha, the 'joy of the people', must never be forgotten.

Why are Brazil so good?
31 May 07 |  Internationals
World Cup history - Chile 1962
15 May 06 |  World Cup 2006
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