Garrincha was so quick, so brilliant at times with his dribble that you watch the tape and feel like he must have been cheating. Fluid as any player in the sport's history with vision, precision and confidence, Garrincha could break the soul of the world's greatest defenders with a beaming smile on his face.
The way Garrincha played the game was so graceful that you nearly forgot about his shortcomings. That many in his family never knew whether he would walk due to leg and spine deformities at birth. That even as he grew up, he only did so to 5'6"—and that depended on whom was doing the measuring. That he grew up the son of an alcoholic father whose philandering ways would be passed down to his son, marring what could have been one of the most impeccable legacies in Brazilian soccer history.
No. When you watch Garrincha on tape, all you see is the brilliance. Those fleeting 90 minutes where the physical and assuredly emotional pain he endured as a child washed away, leaving only a short ball of talent more determined and tougher than anyone he came across.
The benefactors of Garrincha were numerous. Botafogo, the Brazilian club team with whom he spent almost his entire career. The Brazilian national team, which without Garrincha might not be the international power it remains today. Even Pele, argued by many to be the best soccer player in the sport's history, may never have reached his own dizzying heights had Garrincha not been alongside for the national team ride.
But when you step away from the pitch, those problems do not actually disappear. Botafogo, Brazil, Pele and others who benefitted from Garrincha's greatness could not stop him from becoming his own worst enemy. As a matter of fact, many in the same soccer-crazy community he helped build washed their hands of his personal tribulations rather than offer a helping hand.
In the latest installment of ESPN's 30 for 30: Soccer Stories, director Marcos Horacio Azevedo attempts to tell that story—the good, the bad, the bitter end—in his latest effort, titled The Myth of Garrincha. The film airs Tuesday night at 7 p.m. and is paired with Ceasefire Massacre, which tells the story of a terrorist attack of a Northern Irish bar during the 1994 World Cup.
While on the surface very different stories—one about an oft-forgotten but brilliant player, the other about the heinous acts of misguided individuals—both carry this air of tragedy. Ceasefire Massacre tells the story of the families affected through their own eyes. It is a more typical, straightforward story of nationalistic strife and long-boiling tensions finally spilling over.
The Myth of Garrincha goes from inspirational perseverance to a rapid rise to stardom to an arguably more rapid descent to the bottom of a bottle. To watch the story of Garrincha's life is to understand how—no matter how far we attempt to distance ourselves from our past—it never truly leaves us.
On the field, it's hard to argue that Garrincha isn't among the best handful of players in Brazilian soccer history. He scored 232 goals as a winger in 581 club appearances with Botafogo, but was defined by the flair and still-to-this-day-unmatched style he brought to the pitch. There was almost never any telling what he would do with the ball. His quick first step made any hesitations a death sentence, and his ability to control the ball as if it were tied to his leg may have broken the Internet had he played in another era.
"Garrincha was too unpredictable, even for us his teammates," Pele told FIFA of his famous teammate. "But there was no doubt he was the key to winning games for us. Of course he had a great team around him, but you simply can't ignore his incredible talent."
Brazil was undefeated in games where Pele and Garrincha shared the same field. The country won two World Cups during his time on the national team—most notably in 1962, when Pele was not available to carry the goal-scoring load. Instead, it was Garrincha. Taking more goal-scoring responsibilities than he ever had prior, Garrincha won the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player and scored more goals than any other player.
That moment in Santiago, Chile represented the height of an improbable career. But that moment would also enable Garrincha to indulge in his worst habits. Boozing, adulterous affairs, overspending—Garrincha was victim to nearly every vice that often afflicts famous and powerful men. He was married twice, but is believed to have fathered no fewer than 14 children—not all of which came with his wives.
His most famous marriage, to legendary Brazilian samba singer Elza Soares, helped tear down the walls of a once-infallible reputation. Married in 1966, the couple's highly public relationship came at a time when Garrincha's own prodigious skills were waning. Upset with the way he played in comparison to his 1962 triumph and even more perturbed by his off-the-field life, the Brazilian press began excoriating the man they once deified.
It didn't help that Garrincha was his own worst enemy. By the end of the 1966 World Cup, Garrincha's soccer career was essentially over. He had left Botafogo after more than a decade the previous year and would bounce around to five more clubs between then and 1972, making a grand total of 17 appearances.
The final years of his life were hollow. His and Elza's relationship soured amid his increasingly drunken and abusive behavior, and by the time the 1980s rolled around Garrincha's indulgence had finally caught up with him.
He died in 1983. The cause: Cirrhosis.
And yet, having alienated nearly everyone he had come across during his life, Garrincha leaves an indelible legacy. The years since his death have softened the stance on his hard partying and poor decision-making—as it is wont to do in all walks of life. Time doesn't change the past, but it can help alter its memory.
In Garrincha, Brazilians and soccer fans can find a little bit of everything. An inspirational hero. An international superstar. A villain. A drunk. A brilliant, deeply flawed human being brought to this earth to bring joy to the fans of the world's most popular sport.
Garrincha, now and forever, will be a poster boy for the good and bad of sport.
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