“One day he came home with a little bird in his hand and I said: ‘Look, it’s just like you. It flies around a lot, but it’s not good for anything. It’s a garrincha (little bird).’ That stuck for the rest of his life”
I guess that quote from his sister, Rosa, would foreshadow his life on and off the pitch. Not only that, but a symbol of his own personal experiences as a child onwards and what he meant to the clubs he played for, the team-mates he socialised with and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people that he left mesmerised by his remarkable and uncultivated talent.
Like a lot of what history has told us about the growing up of Brazilian players, Garrincha was not blessed with wealth, in fact, he was born in Pau Grande in the city of Magé southeast of Brazil and in the municipal state of Rio de Janeiro. It is a small sector within the terse state that over six million people live but favelas are plotted all over. His father was an alcoholic and would yet again foreshadow problems in later life. His birth defects would become something of a notable influence on him; his spine was deformed, his right leg was bent inwards and his left leg was six centimetres shorter than the other. Incredibly, none of these had a significant effect on his ability to play football, but give him an advantage.
But football would not be his first love. He started working in a factory at just the age of fourteen years old and even becoming a husband and parent by nineteen. He would inherit the dangerous alcoholic trait from his father and not become acrimonious with the well-known Brazilian beverage, Cachaça (the article will link back to this later). It’s ironic that he had next-to-no interest in the game of football because he seemed unaware of his own talent. The birth defects may have been a struggle to live with but proved stronger than thought at first. In 1953 he signed for local club Botafogo who were just over half a decade old at the time, still relatively new to the league scene and looking to fill their trophy cabinet with more trophies following their success within their state’s league. Delighted with him being over eighteen, Garrincha was thrusted into the reserves team immediately where, in his first training session, he even put to shame Nilton Santos by dribbling through his legs. Extraordinarily enough that Nilton Santos was – and still is – Botafogo’s highest appearance maker, he himself requested that Garrincha would be inducted into the Brazil national setup ahead of the 1958 World Cup in another five years’ time.
Garrincha would go on to score a hat trick in his debut game for the reserves side in a 5-0 thrashing and continued to put in scintillating performances for his new-found side. It was only the issue that there was someone of considerably more experience, Júlio Botelho, that would stand in the way of him travelling to the 1954 FIFA World Cup that Seleção would go on to be eliminated from in the first knockout round 4-2 by the Hungarians. Nevertheless o Glorioso would go on to win their tenth state title in nine years with their quick little wizard scoring 20 goals in 26 games and finishing second in the goal scoring charts, confirming a place in the squad for the 1958 World Cup eventually under head coach at the time Vicente Feola. Feola and his verde e amarelo would go onto win the tournament for the first-ever time in the country’s history and a company that involved a 16-year-old Pelé.
Prior to the World Cup, Garrincha scored one of his most famous goals in a friendly game against Italian outfit ACF Fiorentina where he beat four defenders and the goalkeeper before stopping the ball, waiting for them to all rush back, and then pot the goal into the net. Despite such a fantastic and audacious goal it upset the coaches, as they found it an irresponsible action on his part that could have cost him his place. But even so he went to Sweden and Gothenburg in particular where the Brazilians were up against the USSR in their group. Having already beaten Austria and drawing with England (who didn’t qualify after drawing twice and losing to the USSR 1-0), there was a sense of nervousness in the samba camp.
Feola was in acknowledgment of the problem from the start after gaining information from his fellow staff that the team they would come up against were a side that were extremely well organized and prove hard to break down. Moreover, scientific technology had not made the same breakthrough at the time as it has now in modern day football to help treat and condition footballers, so their fitness levels would be considerably better than that of most in the tournament altogether. However confidence remained. Feola instructed his team to attack from the off, putting immense pressure and high closing down all over the pitch to make it difficult for the USSR to attain possession and control of the game. A teenage Pelé and Garrincha both making their debuts at the time were advocates of this highly attacking formation and strategy that has now been labelled as “the best three minutes of football of all time” because of how much intense pressure the Soviets were under in such a short space of time. Already in a minute an assist from Garrincha allowed Pelé for a shot on target that thundered off the crossbar and leave the crowd in ooh’s and aww’s. The game eventually finished 2-0 to the South Americans and the team that were feared to be the dominant favourites from the start were out – a sigh of relief much from the other seven teams who qualified for the next round?
As Seleção progressed they reached the finals where they would face the hosts in their own backyard and go down to one goal after just four minutes. Vavá would equalise a few minutes later and allowing Pelé and Zagallo in on the act before Blågult would grab a consolation goal. The trophy was Brazil’s and celebrations were all round, bar Garrincha, who did not seem to notice that the World Cup is much unlike the league back home – everyone plays each other once, not twice, adding to his bemusement when he saw his team-mates running and frolicking in patriotic fashion with the flag of Brazil draped around them, breaking down even as his own fellow countryman Pelé did. Like it was a little over the top for a competition that had only been around for almost three decades.
Subsequent to the triumphs abroad life would become rough for the World Cup debutant. Though he did not distinctly partake in all of the celebrations in winning the world tournament, Garrincha had started to gain weight fall back into drinking, inheriting his father’s alcoholic beverage in the process. Whilst his club were on tour in Europe he was able to get a local Swedish girl pregnant whilst his wife, Nair, gave birth to their fifth child and his mistress Iraci announcing her first pregnancy – this would be the long list in an variety of impregnations on the part of Botafogo’s skilful star whilst managing to run over his own father whilst under the influence of alcohol. Fortunately his father survived but his son would have no recollection of his actions whatsoever. Could have this been some sort of retribution on his part, or even irony? His father passed away in October later that year from liver cancer.
The 1962 FIFA World Cup came around four years later again, this time in Chile and closer to home without having to fly abroad, whilst Botafogo had won the Campeonato Carioca twice in 1961 and ‘62. Feola from the previous World Cup bade farewell to the national setup and made way for Aymoré Moreira, an ex-Botafogo right winger (coincidence?) that returned to the head coach role for the second time after taking an eight-year hiatus from football. Moreira’s side were automatically through with the hosts Chile whilst Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia all fought off Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador to make up the South American qualifiers. Once again Brazil topped their group without losing a single game, knocking out the English after they climbed above the Argentines to sit second in the group stage behind Hungary, eliminate the hosts Chile in the process before eventually facing off against Czechslovakia, a team they drew 0-0 to in the groups phase to win 3-1. Garrincha finished as the top goalscorer in the tournament tied with fellow compatriot Vavá and several others and being voted Player of the Tournament. A famous headline exclaimed: “What planet is Garrincha from?” and it was to be yet another time of happiness and joy for those who were able to witness the magnificent brilliance of the bent-legged angel from Brazil.
However after twelve years at Estádio General Severiano he would be sold to Corinthians Paulista in São Paulo and not too far from his old club. They themselves had won their own state league, Campeonato Paulista, fifteen times but the last time that they had done until Garrincha’s arrival wasn’t for twelve years. The bulk of Garrincha’s professional career had been fulfilled, so the move for him at the age of 33 would be in his retirement years. His fitness had declined, he was still a fairly average drinker and not looking as great a prospect to be selected by the returning Vicente Feola as he did nearly a decade ago. Struggles with a knee injury did not help either as it hampered his ability to perform at the level people were almost expecting of him.
Surprisingly enough he was still selected and played a part in the 1966 World Cup in England, probably one of very few times that he would set foot inside Great Britain. Already in the first game of the tournament he scored in his country’s 2-0 win over Bulgaria with an excellently taken free-kick that would be one of the goals of the tournament with the outside of his foot. But following the win, Hungary would once again be on hand to subject Brazil to a defeat, beating them 3-1 at Goodison Park in front of 52,000 spectators and capturing second in the group. Brazil finished third and were already out, astounding critics who thought that they would go on to win their third World Cup for the first time in history, as the last two proved to be successful with such a talented squad. It would mean the end for Garrincha on international level though, as it proved to be his last game for Canarinho.
After his small spell at Corinthians he travelled from club to club throughout Brazil before retiring at local side Olaria, a team situated in the lower ranks of the Campeonato Carioca divisions in 1972. The following year a farewell match was held in honour of his career where a FIFA world team was assembled to face the Brazil national side of the time, consisting mainly of South American players and other winners of the 1970 FIFA World Cup that was held a few years prior, celebrating the occasion in the country’s biggest stadium, Maracanã in front of over one-hundred thousand spectators, a huge capacity crowd that both wanted to see the match itself and the bowing out of a heroic figure from the game.
Eventually as his professional career in the game had closed, financial and marital problems would arise. Subsequently separating from his first wife Nair in 1965 after thirteen years of marriage he then married his second wife Elza Sores in an unofficial ceremony, a samba singer before they separated in 1977 due to more marital problems. Reports suggest that he struck her which would prove to be the turning point in their marriage’s end. Other affairs include a showgirl by the name of Angelita Martinez, leaving it to be known that Garrincha fathered fourteen children but numbers have fluctuated to the stunning amount of 36.
A decade after his farewell match and a beautifully-arranged atmosphere surrounded by people who loved and cared for their little garrincha and spending his final years playing amateur football, Garrincha passed away from liver cirrhosis on January 19, 1983 following an alcoholic coma. He was 49 years old. Thousands of fans and former players gathered for his funeral in that year where they all mourned his death, yet praising his life in the same breath, and his epitaph reading: “Here rests in peace the one who was the Joy of the People – Mané Garrincha.” People even wrote and painted on a wall “Obrigado, Garrincha, por você ter vivido” (Thank you, Garrincha, for having lived).
In spite of his own death being foreshadowed by his own father’s actions, the struggles he lived through whilst not being able to sustain marriages as a result of his alcoholism, people did not give him the nickname of “Joy of the People” for the sake of it. It had a meaning behind it. Yes, you could argue that Garrincha was a drunkard, a womanizer and someone who physically abused their wives whilst also fathering an inhumane amount of children, his life as a footballer and as an entertainer to people all around the world served as a purpose for the greater good of both himself and to people of today, who love the game, and in every respect reminisce about Garrincha with great joy. People in Botafogo and throughout Brazil love Garrincha as much as they do love Pelé. In fact, funnily enough, Brazil never lost a game when they both started. A great pairing of two unbelievable players that, unfortunately, one would suffer from things that were not necessarily within his own control.
Garrincha ‘Joy of the People’, ‘The angel with bent legs’, or simply just Mané. Liked, loved, cared for.
“Without Garrincha, I would have never been three-time world champion” – Pelé