In 1958 the FIFA World Cup was held in Sweden and many television sets across Europe faced a major problem. Whenever the camera focused on a certain genius’s legs, it appeared as if the TV set is displaying distorted images. The problem though was practically unsolvable for any technician. It was not a technical glitch; it was Mane Garrincha’s crippled pair of legs that made the images seem so.
Manuel Francisco dos Santos or simply ‘Garrincha’ had arrived on the grandest stage of football with an innocent smile which he was hugely popular for. Born in one of the ghettos of Pau Grande, Garrincha donned that smile of authentic innocence since the time he was born. Along with that though was a pair of crippled feet that made him look disabled. His right leg bent outwards and left leg bent inwards, moreover his left leg was 6cm shorter than the right. A deformed spine too added to his miseries but, that innocent smile would never go.
‘Garrincha’ the character was the foundation of ‘Garrincha’ the footballer. He earned his nickname from a bird he liked to kill the most while hunting- ‘Garrincha’- the little bird. A spontaneous jester and a candid womanizer coupled with his addiction to alcohol made him an irresponsible person. But, these traits were not missed on the football field. Garrincha played with utmost carelessness and negligible sense of responsibility. To many these traits sounded ‘negative’ for a footballer but, those intuitions only lasted till they saw him actually play.
Garrincha had blistering pace. But, he was known for is immaculate dribbling skills that appeared to be surreal. He had the ability to run at full pace and turn 180’ at the same speed, his deformities had done the trick for him. Although being an extraordinary talent right since his adolescent years; Garrincha never considered playing the game at a professional level. But, insistence from his friends urged him to visit clubs for trials. He failed. Not because he wasn’t good enough, but just because the selectors couldn’t see anything beyond his crippled legs.
After being rejected at big clubs like Fluminense and Vasco, Garrincha gave up on the idea of being a professional. But, a lucky break at Botafogo and his very first test against the then Brazil national left-back Nilton Santos meant that the stage was set for him. And he delivered; so much so that Santos himself insisted the club to sign him up. Soon, Garrincha became a phenomenon. His performances for club earned him a rightful place in the 1958 World Cup squad. He rocked the world with his mesmerizing dribbling skills. Brazil won the championship without breaking the sweat, Garrincha was the man behind that success.
More success followed. His utter joy in playing the game and his innocent desire to entertain the crowd earned him the name Alegria do Povo (Joy of the People). Garrincha would humiliate any defender with his skill, but he never intended to flaunt his supremacy; for the character he was- he did things because he felt like doing so. Another name in his appreciation was framed again. This time, Anjo de Pernas Tortas (Angel with Bent Legs) was what he was termed as. Running up to the 1962 FIFA World Cup, Garrincha was in the form of his life.
Brazil won the cup with consummate ease again, this time without Pele for most of the tournament. Garrincha had taken centre stage and emerged as the player of the tournament with no one even contesting for his place. But, this was the last time he played like the way he was known for.
A prolonged injury to his knee to his already deformed limbs had taken a lot out of him. Fame of the World Cup meant presence of bad company that would encourage him for a drink at the bar more often than not. Garrincha also had personal problems with his vilified relation with artist Elza Soares. The injury that he ignored, like he did for everything, killed Garrincha’s panache according to many of his teammates. 1966 World Cup came calling and Garrincha showed glimpses of ‘Garrincha’ but, his poor form and unconditioned and overweight body limited his performance to glimpses only.
He soon went into depression and lived with almost no money. He squandered all the cash that he had earned while he was at his prime. The death of his mother-in-law in a car crash while Garrincha was driving meant the end for the Angel with bent legs. He considered himself responsible for her demise and tried to take his own life twice. He died at the age of 49. In the last few months of his life, his body wouldn’t accept anything but alcohol. The angel suffered a horrendous death.
But, the people of Brazil still remember him for uniting all rival clubs; he was everybody’s hero, nobody hated him. His teammates remember him for the way he would simply dribble past 6-7 defenders just for fun. His childhood friends remember on how he lost his virginity to a goat, his pure innocence and his will to entertain. The world remembers him for being the greatest right winger and arguably the greatest dribbler that the game has ever produced. Though his eyes sunk into depression and his spark just vanished in course of his death, his name still represents innocent joy in Brazil.