By 90Min
March 16, 2018

We as football fans love it when we can relate to a player. One that doesn't follow the stereotypical norms of a professional footballer, one that acts like a fan out on the pitch, and one that doesn't allow his natural flair to fizzle out under a rigid coaching regime. We connect with them.

Manuel Francisco dos Santos definitely sat firmly in that category. Garrincha, as he was more concisely known, played for the people. He was an entertainer of the highest order; sabotaging any tactical approach to the game to dazzle his opponent and get the fans on their feet. 

The fleet footed Brazilian was the first of his kind, his unlikely sporting success story made all the more phenomenal given the fact he was medically damned from a young age. 

Garrincha was certified as a cripple by one doctor in his hometown as his left leg was six centimetres longer than his right, whilst his poverty ridden background and alcoholic father meant that any career in football would be a far fetched potentiality. 

The name 'Garrincha' derives from that of the north-eastern name for a wren, a little brown bird, a tag given to him by his sister Rosa after she realised just how small he was compared to the other children his age. 

The nickname stuck, going from nothing more than a throwaway comment to one of the most iconic names in world football. 

The elusive winger began his career at Botafogo, already a father and a husband at 20-years-old, and rose quickly through the ranks. He scored a hattrick against Bonsucesso on his debut for the first team which caught the eye of the Brazilian national team, and was consequently called up for the 1958 World Cup. 

Amazingly, Garrincha won the tournament at the first time of asking, but one moment after the final truly epitomised his care free nature, his obliviousness to the technicalities of a game he played like a child in a playground. 

Whilst his jubilant teammates celebrated their momentous victory, Garrincha walked around expressionless and confused, wondering why they were so ecstatic.

It was later revealed that the winger - who was voted in the tournament's Best XI - did not realise he had just won the World Cup, instead believing that the competition was a league format and that Brazil would play everybody twice.  

After the 1958 success, Garrincha went through a turbulent time. He gained weight due to his drinking problems, resulting in him being left out of the Brazil squad for a while. Whilst on tour with Botafogo in Sweden, he got a local girl pregnant, and then followed that up by running over his father back home whilst under the influence.  

If that wasn't enough, his wife Nair then gave birth to their fifth child whereas his mistress Iraci awkwardly announced her pregnancy shortly after. While he had children left right and centre, Garrincha's father then passed away due to liver failure after years of alcoholism. 

Despite all of these significant events taking place, Garrincha still went on to win a second successive World Cup title and was voted as the tournament's outright best player in 1962. Due to an injury picked up by the Selecao's supposed star man, Pele, which led to him missing the entire 1962 tournament after the second match, Garrincha's influence was in the limelight. 

"Garrincha was more of a danger than Pelé I believe at the time, a phenomenon, capable of sheer magic." This is a quote from Mel Hopkins, a Welsh defender who faced Garrincha in 1958, and his opinion isn't in isolation. 

Intriguingly, many actually consider Garrincha to be just as good as Pele ever was, if not better. Pele never won the World Cup golden boot award whereas Garrincha did; that statistic made all the more incisive due to the fact that the latter played his football on the right flank compared to Pele's central role. 

That's a debate for another day though. What shall be debated today is the fact that Garrincha's absence amongst the very best in football is unjust. Whether that was down to his rebellious, non-commercial lifestyle warding off potential sponsorship deals to raise his profile is unclear, but the fact he isn't a household name is criminal. 

A Uruguayan writer by the name of Eduardo Galeano perhaps put it better than most could in his lauding of the Brazilian, putting emphasis on how the game's negatives evaded Garrincha to allow flamboyancy and creativity to flourish instead. 

"In the entire history of football no one made more people happy. When he was out there, the pitch was a circus ring, the ball a tamed animal, the match a party invitation. Garrincha nurtured his pet, the ball, and together they created such mischief that people almost died laughing. He jumped over it, it gambolled around him, hid itself away, skipped off and made him run after it. And on the way, his opponents ran into each other."

Pressure, nerves, tactical restrictions, you name it; any negatives associated with football seemed to bypass the lopsided wing wizard as he played the game in his own isolated innovation. 


Garrincha, above all, had fun. He played his football like he played the game of life: care free, daring and entertainingly.

His death by the same means as his father's at just 49 years old may have stained his beautiful legacy, making him a fallen hero if you will. Not enough people are aware of the man who made the right wing his own, and even years after his death, he captures the imagination of millions. 

Every time Lionel Messi, Eden Hazard and Neymar drop their shoulder and burn past a hapless defender, the great Manuel Francisco dos Santos looks down from the heavens proudly in the knowledge that he is solely responsible for football's most entertaining features. 


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