"Garrincha was more of a danger than Pele I believe at the time, a phenomenon, capable of sheer magic." - Wales' Mel Hopkins.
The world might be still divided between Pele and Maradona, but there once, walked a humble genius, shoulder-to-shoulder with Pele who still is the greatest dribbler the world has ever seen. With his curved legs—the left one, bent inwards and the right, six centimeters shorter and curved outwards—Gentle Genius Garrincha scripted some of soccer's most beautiful performances ever.
Manuel Francisco dos Santos was born in Pau Grande, a small city near Rio de Janeiro, on 28 October, 1933 and died of alcohol abuse on 20 January, 1983 in Rio de Janeiro.
Garrincha, means “song bird,” was a carefree soul who apart from his passion for football, shared his interest in alcohol and women as well. He was nicknamed as Alegria do Povo (Joy of the People) or Anjo de Pernas Tortas (Angel with Bent Legs).
The art form of dribbling might just have been discovered for Garrincha, who played with such free spirit and non conformity that he often displayed a reckless disregard for the flow of the game that is almost impossible in today’s world.
His ability to change direction off the step at such acute angles was astonishing. He invariably went right, even if he went left initially, coming back to go right and the defenders must have figured this out, yet Garrincha had the ability to evade the lunge by the angle of his step.
This obviously takes the highest levels of dexterity of foot. Even today, he has no equals, not even the swift footed Cristiano Ronaldo or wonderkid Lionel Messi can match his genius, sadly, not even the great Maradona draws comparison.
During one game, he is said to have bamboozled his marker so much, the defender fell to the floor as Garrincha ran past him. Instead of carrying on, Garrincha dribbled back to his opponent, picked him up off the turf and then carried on down the wing.
Garrincha as a footballer was more than about winning matches and trophies. He was one of the creators of the beautiful game that we are so used to talking about while referring to Brazil, Argentina and Netherlands.
Before Garrincha and his team-mates arrived at the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden, Brazil were considered second-rate even on their own continent, with Uruguay being the dominant force having won the first World Cup in 1930 and then, catastrophically for Brazil, beating the hosts in the Maracana in 1950 to claim their second crown.
In 1958, Garrincha was held back by Brazil till the third game against the powerful Russians and with Didi, Vava and Pele, he led Brazil to a memorable victory. In the same game, Garrincha referred to the Russian defender Kusnetsov as João , a common Brazilian name. Since then, all the defenders who tried to stop him were named João.
Garrincha eventually, in partnership with Pele, led Brazil to lift the 1958 World Cup, their first. But the real worth of Garrincha was revealed in the 1962 World Cup when Pele was out of the tournament in the second game with an injury. He spearheaded Brazil with sheer brilliance and genius and in the process, produced some memorable victories, notably over England in quarters, on the path to Brazil’s second World cup.
Garrincha won the player of the tournament in the 1962 World Cup. But his carefree spirit and indulgence in alcohol and women led to his downfall.
In 1966 World Cup, he was far below his best and a pale shadow of his former self, struggling with a year-long knee injury, which devoided him of his electrifying bursts of speed, which terrorized his opponents.
He made his last appearance in a Brazilian jersey, when he ended up on the losing side for the first time with Brazil against Hungary in 1966 World Cup.
With Garrincha, Brazil won 52 games, had seven draws and a single loss. Brazil never lost with him and Pele playing together.
For Botafogo, his first professional team, Garrincha played 581 games, scoring 232 goals. His first match was in 19th July 1953. That day, he scored three goals in their victory of 6-3 over Bonsucesso.
He was champion of the Carioca League in 1957, 1961, and 1962 and of Rio-São Paulo league in 1962 and 1964. In that time, there was no Brazilian championship, and the Rio-São Paulo joined all the best Brazilian teams. Garrincha's Botafogo made against Pele's Santos some of the best games of the history of Brazilian soccer.
Garrincha was named to the World Team of the Twentieth Century by 250 journalists from across the world in June, 1998.
It is a sad reality that while the world today swoons over the Ronaldos and Messis, no one seems to remember this timeless genius and one of the true exponents of the beautiful game, the “Angel with bent legs.”