Flair Icons #7: Garrincha


by Tom Stewart

Angel with bent legs

Born: 28/10/33, Pau Grande, Brazil (died 20/1/83)

Clubs: Botafogo, Corinthians, Atletico Junior, Flamengo, Olaria

International: Brazil (51 Games, 12 Goals)

It is my great pleasure to introduce to you one of the greatest wingers the game has ever seen. Manuel Francisco dos Santos aka Alegria do Pavo (joy of the people), aka Anjo de Pernas Tortas (angel with bent legs). You may know him Garrincha.

Garrincha was born in Pau Grande, a suburb of Magé in 1933. His father was an alcoholic, which unfortunately was a trait that Garrincha inherited. He was born with several birth defects, including a deformed spine, a right leg that was bent inwards and was 6 inches longer than his left which bent outwards.

He had very little interest in playing football professionally until his late teens, despite being known by the top clubs from an early age.

By the time he signed for Botafogo aged 20, he was already married and a parent. In his first training session he impressed his new club by nutmegging Brazilian international defender Nilton Santos. He then scored a hat trick on his debut.

He initially struggled to make a break through into the national team. At the time, due to a lack of infrastructure in the Brazilian game, the national team was selected by getting the top clubs to send their best players, and then the selectors would be the team from there. He was not selected for the 1954 World Cup due to a style of play that was more based on team work than flair.

In the next four years his performances were so brilliant (in 1957 he was second top scorer in his league) that he was selected for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

During a tour match against Fiorentina, he beat 4 defenders and the goalkeeper, and rather than scoring into an empty goal, waited for a defender to get back before beating him again and scoring. This angered the Brazilian selectors who saw it as an irresponsible act and dropped him for the first two games. However, in the final game against USSR he started, alongside a certain Pele. The Soviets were one of the pre-tournament favourites, but a stunning attacking display from Garrincha and Pele gave Brazil a 2-0 win.

Brazil went on to win that World Cup, beating the hosts Sweden 5-2 in the final. Garrincha, not knowing much about the finer details of the game, was bemused to see his team mates celebrating after the final, thinking it was a league format and they’d have to play all their opponents twice.

After the ’58 World Cup, he put on a lot of weight, partly due to his ever increasing drink problem. He spent most of the time getting drunk, with very little concept of what was happening in his life. He also fathered at least 3 children in this time (with 3 different women).

In ’62, with Pele injured, Garrincha was needed by Brazil to be on top form. He delivered and was eventually voted player of the tournament. In a match against Spain, Brazil were drawing 1-1 with only a few minutes left, before Garrincha beat his man, waited for him to get up, beat him again along with another opponent before firing in a cross which was slotted in by Amarildo to win 2-1.

Brazil faced England in the quarter-finals. Garrincha scored with a header, before England equalised. Vava scored to send Brazil 2-1 up before Garrincha scored a 3rd with what was one of the first ever examples of a ‘banana shot’. Remember the balls they were using were heavy and barely moved at all in the air.

Brazil beat Czechoslovakia in the final and Garrincha played despite having a severe fever.

Despite a decent performance in the 1966 World Cup, his career was now in rapid decline. His drinking was causing him to put on a lot of weight and he was now on the way down. He played 236 games for Botafogo in 12 years,  but after this he played just 17 games in the next 6 years of his career for various clubs, before retiring in 1972.

He died just eleven years later of cirrhosis of the liver which put him into a coma. He had been hospitalised 8 times in his final year and died penniless and was a mental and physical wreck.

Garrincha was a notorious womaniser. He was first married to Nair Marques, with whom he had 8 daughters, and secondly to samba singer Eliza Soares (they were both married before which caused controversy in Brazil). He had numerous mistresses and is known to have fathered at least 14 children, a suspected 36.

He has a stadium named in his honour in Brasilia, while at the famous Maracana Stadium, the away changing rooms are named “Pele”, while the home changing rooms- “Garrincha”.

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