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Remembering Garrincha

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Remembering Garrincha

Tomorrow night, the United States faces off against five-time World Cup Champions Brazil in the New Meadowlands. Players often associated with the world-renowned A Seleção are Ronaldo, Socrates, Zico, Romario, Ronaldinho, and of course, Pelé. They are all great players, but only one was recognized as the Alegria do Povo (Joy of the People).

Alongside Pelé is one of the founding fathers of A Seleção. Together, they never lost a match for Brazil. So who is this man? Considered one of the best dribblers to ever play the game, this angel with bent legs, his name was Manuel Francisco dos Santos. 

To his friends, he was recognized as Mané, but to the rest of the world, he was Garrincha. Just as he mysteriously appeared to the hearts of Brazilians, he publicly withered away in their eyes.

So who was Garrincha?

Before there was news about Cristiano Ronaldo's reputation as a playboy, there was Garrincha. Recognized for his sexual appetite, Garrincha had numerous affairs, which included Brazilian Samba singer Elza Soares (who eventually married him) and showgirl Angelita Martinez.

Before Larry Johnson and Shawn Kemp, Garrincha had fathered a total of 14 children through his marriage and extra-marital affairs. With all these children, one has to wonder if there were any more.

Before Maradona singlehandedly won the World Cup for Argentina in 1986, there was Garrincha. In the 1962 World Cup in Chile, Garrincha led Brazil to their second consecutive World Cup title after Pelé was lost for the entire tournament after suffering an injury against Czechoslovakia in a 0-0 draw. Against England and Chile, Garrincha scored two goals in both matches.

Before Michael Jordan played ill in Game Five of the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, Garrincha played with a severe fever in Brazil's 3-1 World Cup final victory against Czechoslovakia. To top it off, he was the most outstanding player of the tournament. 

Despite being an icon in Brazil, Garrincha's last few years were filled with sadness to the point he was emotionally and physically broken. After years of heavy drinking, Garrincha eventually died of cirrhosis of the liver on January 19, 1983 in Rio de Janeiro.

In the end, who was Garrincha?

He was the player who didn't play soccer...he flowed with soccer. Not a student for the game, Garrincha was a zen master who didn't need to be taught how to play.

Off the pitch, he was an individual who never took control of his life the same way he mastered the soccer ball. Like some of the best athletes in any sport, he's also the most flawed and loved.

Recommended books/movie on Garrincha:

Garrincha - The triumph and tragedy of Brazil's forgotten footballing hero by Ruy Castro
Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life by Alex Bellos
Pelé, the Autobiography with Orlando Duarte and Alex Bellos
Garrincha: Una Estrella Solitaria (2003 movie)

Cesar Diaz writes for Latino Sports. Please e-mail him your questions and comments to cesar@latinosports.com

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