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Legends: Garrincha

Whenever “great footballers” are discussed a few Brazilian names will always add flavour to the conversational mix.

You can expect to hear about Zico, who was both graceful and disciplined. Socrates, on the other hand, was one of the game’s architects and a man with a hint of the philosopher about him. Then of course, there was Pele, whom words can’t do justice to. But some Brazilians were just insane.

Manuel Francisco dos Santos - Garrincha -  was born in 1933 somewhere in the impoverished slums of Rio to an alcoholic father and mother. His birth defects included a twisted spine and a severe deformity in his right leg which hampered his development in certain sports. Astonishingly football was not one of them.

It’s safe to say that young Manuel wasn’t born into the greatest fortune.

At 14 Manuel went off to become a factory worker where he met his first wife Nair Marques. He was already well acquainted with alcohol by this time. Despite this, at 19 “The Little Bird” was given a professional contract with Brazilian outfit Botafogo. 

The Botafogo fans dubbed him Garrincha - The Wren. Garrincha went on to win the Intercontinental Cup, The Brazilian Championship Cup and one Rio State Championship in an illustrious career which cemented his role as a club legend.

It wasn’t long before he got his international call up.


His Brazilian career was as impressive as his club one, playing a vital role in his country’s World Cup triumphs in 1958 and 1962. Garrincha was a master dribbler and talisman. He possessed a lightening free-kick and became renowned for his trademark banana shot.

It was about this time that pundits coined the phrase ‘Flair player’. It described Garrincha’s playing style perfectly. He was the top scorer in the 1962 World Cup and voted Player of The Tournament.

While he gained plaudits for his displays on the pitch, his off-field antics were less circumspect. As details about his personal life began to surface a different picture of the man found public circulation.

In Ruy Castro’s book, “The Triumph and Tragedy of Brazil's Forgotten Footballing Hero”, it’s claimed that a 12 year old Garrincha lost his virginity to a goat. Alegedly, he would rather have had a prostitute but there were none in Pua Grande at the time.

He was frequently accused of drunk and disorderly behaviour and made no secret of the fact he struck his wife on several occasions.

He has been in some notable car accidents too – one where he drunkenly ran over his own father and another where he tail-ended a truck, a crash which killed his mother-in-law on impact.

Garrincha enjoyed having money but often spent the majority of his wealth on alcohol and extravagant luxuries. It seemed his reputation would be forever marred by tales of his own instability. At just 49 he died of cirrhosis of the liver. Garrincha is still considered the forgotten hero of Brazilian football.

By Chris Kelso

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