A Tribute To... Garrincha

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer IAugust 20, 2008

Welcome to the fifth in the "A Tribute To..." series. Today's tribute is to the man who many consider to be the forgotten hero of Brazilian football: Garrincha.

Garrincha is perhaps the most underrated player ever. Some fans may not have even heard his name before. Yet he is considered among experts to be the equal to even Pele. He is probably the greatest dribbler of the ball in footballing history. By the time you realised he had beaten you he was halfway down the field.

His crossing abilities and dead-ball skills are also among the best football has ever witnessed.

Born Manuel Francisco dos Santos on October 28, 1933, "Garrincha" was born with several defects. His left leg was six centimetres shorter than his right leg, and curved unnaturally outwards. His right leg bent inwards, and his spine was deformed.

Obviously, with those defects, no-one thought he would grow up to become one of the best football players ever.

Nor did Garrincha think that he would become a legendary footballer. At first he didn't even want to.

Scouts all over Brazil knew of him, and he was something of a legend between them. Many refused to believe the stories about him until they saw him themselves. One is quoted as saying "there is an unknown player who lives in the woods, has bent legs, is totally un-markable and dribbles like the devil."

Eventually scouts saw him, then believed. His immense talent was showing through at even this young age. However, it took time to convince Garrincha to play professionally. At 19 years old, he signed a contract with Botafogo. He was already married with a child.

In his debut first-team game of his career he scored a hat-trick. Garrincha had arrived.

Despite terrorizing defences every week for Botafogo with his electric pace, deceptive dribbling and powerful shot, he was overlooked for the 1954 Brazil World Cup squad. This was due to Brazil's new system they played, which it was thought Garrincha may not fit into, and because they had other talented right-wingers to choose from.

Garrincha continued to put in jaw-dropping performances, however, helping his team to success in the O'Higgins Cup in 1955.

It was this year when he gained his first Brazil cap. He was finally judged to have impressed enough to make it into the national squad and was given his debut against Chile.

For the next few years, Garrincha was in and out of the Brazilian team and continuing to mesmerize the fans with his ball control. In 1957 he helped Botafogo to win the Campeonato Carioca.

The following year he was selected in the Brazilian squad for the 1958 World Cup. However, he was left out of the first two games, reportedly due to his coaches punishing him for irresponsible play in a goal he scored a month previously.

This is one of his most famous goals. He was facing Fiorentina and got the ball, dribbled past four defenders and then the 'keeper. With the goal gaping in front of him, Garrincha didn't put the ball in. He wasn't finished toying with the defenders yet.

He waited for the defence to come back, before dribbling it around another defender and only then did he put them out of their misery.

He was included for the third match of Brazil's World Cup campaign, as was Pele. This would be the first match Garrincha and Pele would play together, a combination that was one of the most feared of all time.

He helped Brazil to a 2-0 win over the USSR. His leg deformities seemed to actually help his football abilities rather than hinder them.

After he gave Welsh fullback Mel Hopkins a torrid time in the quarter final, Hopkins had this to say: "He's a phenomenon, capable of sheer magic. It was difficult to know which way he was going to go because of his legs and because he was as comfortable on his left foot as his right, so he could cut inside or go down the line and he had a ferocious shot too."

In the final Garrincha set up the two Brazil goals which led them to World Cup glory. At the final whistle and the celebrations, Garrincha was reportedly bemused. He thought it was a league competition and they would have to play everyone twice.

Despite his lack of desire to know the "details" of the game, Garrincha was named in the World Cup All-Star team.

He also won silverware with his club in 1958, triumphing in the Oswaldo Cruz Cup. He followed this up with success in the O'Higgins Cup the next year.

However, this was a rare highlight in 1959 for Garrincha. He began drinking more than before, putting on weight and often being found in a drunken state. One night he got into a car drunk, and drove off with an angry mob chasing him. He ran over his father but didn't stop.

When he was later halted, he had no recollection of what had occurred. But his problems off the pitch were soon overshadowed by his performances on it again. In 1961 he won the Campeonato Carioca, the O'Higgins Cup and the Oswald Cruz Cup with Botafogo.

But 1962 was to be his best year. At club level he was simply unplayable, helping his team to another Campeonato Carioca, another Oswaldo Cruz Cup, and a first Torneio Rio-Sao Paulo.

But this was nothing compared to his success internationally. At the World Cup he was on the best form of his career. He was scoring freely, with both feet and his head, and laying on yet more goals.

He was the stand-out performer of the World Cup as Brazil went onto win. Garrincha had won his second consecutive World Cup, and was named Player of the World Cup, World Cup joint Top Scorer and World Player of the Year.

He stayed at Botafogo until 1965, winning another Torneio Rio-Sao Paulo before he left for Corinthians. In his time at Botafogo he scored 232 goals in 581 appearances. He never reached the heights of 1962 again, moving from club to club between 1966 and his eventual retirement in 1973.

Despite this he was named in the 1966 Brazilian World Cup squad. He played two matches, bringing his total number of caps up to 50. His last match for Brazil was against Hungary in which they lost 3-1. It was the first and only game Brazil lost while Garrincha was playing for them.

Pele was not playing in that game, which meant him and Garrincha share a rare record of having never lost when playing together.

Garrincha's story after he retired from football is a tragic one. He became an alcoholic, and was involved in numerous car-accidents, one of which his mother-in-law was killed in. He died on January 19, 1983, aged 49, and the world was left to mourn one of the greatest footballers ever.

Hugely underrated yet immeasurably talented, this has been a tribute to Garrincha.

Click here to see other tributes made by this author.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.