"When he came to Botafogo for a 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. Fortunately, they listened to me."
So said Nilton Santos of one of the most gifted players to have ever graced a football pitch. Manoel Francisco dos Santos, better known as Garrincha, was Botafogo and Brazil's craque during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the ace in the hole and arguably the greatest player of his generation.
The stories about the star of Brazil's 1962 World Cup triumph, of his descent into alcoholism and his drinking feats during his playing days are infinite. What sometimes gets forgotten is without him the timeline of Brazilian success, not to mention the trophy cabinet, would be far emptier.
Truth is stranger than fiction, the old adage goes. A recap of Garrincha's times and troubles appears more fanciful than the telenovela soap operas beamed into Brazilian homes every evening.
But prefacing the tragic end to his life, the Garrincha of his pomp—from 1957 to 1962—was a joy. His achievements on the field are a tale of freedom of expression over tactical discipline. Of overcoming the physical obstacles that threatened to derail his career.
The right winger was born with both legs pointed inwards. Walking may have been seen as a challenge; bamboozling the world's sternest defences as he helped Brazil to two World Cup titles was to laugh in the face of biology and its conformities.
Not for nothing is he known as “The Joy of the People.” It is an interesting juxtaposition with his former teammate, Pele.
Pele is known as “The King.” He is adored by Brazilians, considered above the people he represented on the pitch.
Garrincha was the people. A symbol that you can overcome adversity whoever you may be.
Even in sport, his job, his livelihood, he treated the game like a kickabout in the park. There is a famous story of a friendly before the 1958 World Cup.
Brazil were taking on Italian club Fiorentina, who boasted right winger Julinho, a direct competitor with Garrincha for the right-wing spot in the national side. During the game, Garrincha waltzed around the entire defence, dribbling and evading at will, before rounding the goalkeeper to score.
Instead of being praised, he was met with derision and fury by his teammates. If he tried the same party piece during the World Cup, he was bound to lose the ball.
But 1962 was his golden year, in some ways the closing chapter of his footballing life. With Pele sitting out the majority of the World Cup through injury, Garrincha was the man who dragged an ageing team to the final and the trophy.
His style of play was worth the entrance fee alone and Botafogo milked that to the detriment of the player. The winger delayed a knee operation on numerous occasions as his absence from the side cost club directors enormous profits.
His performances for Botafogo in the 1961 and 1962 year's Rio de Janeiro state championship were equally influential, helping the club to successive titles. But his relationship with the board was disintegrating, over what he considered a disproportionately low salary for a man who filled the club coffers.
After 1962, he was never the same Garrincha, as off-the-field issues began to mount. The man that toyed with opponents, that beat a defender with a burst of pace and twist of his deformed body, only to allow the opponent the chance to catch him so he could have the pleasure of beating him again, was consigned to memory.
He played in the 1966 World Cup in England, but he was a shadow, as alcohol began to control his life. He succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver in 1983 following a 15-year battle with alcoholism.
In the aftermath of Pele's metamorphosis into a global franchise, Garrincha has become the forgotten act.
But when one conjures the idea of Brazil and the image of playing football for the sheer love of the game over monetary gain or global fame, it is Garrincha who personifies that ideal more than any other player in history.
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