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Garrincha: The Angel With Bent Legs

An article about one of my idols: Garrincha

By on Sep 04, 2013   3585 views   0 comments
Football Views - Garrincha: The Angel With Bent Legs
Manuel Francisco Dos Santos, or Garrincha as he is nicknamed, is a name not known by many these days, but back in the 1950’s and 60’s, he was the name on everyone lips, and was one of his country Brazil’s most unsung heroes. What everyone remembers Garrincha, which means the ‘Little Bird’ in Portuguese, is his badly distorted leg, which threatened to end his career before it had even begun.

Manuel Francisco Dos Santos was born into a poor family in 1933 in Pau Gande, Rio de Janeiro. Mane, as he was known to his friends, got his nickname when his sister saw him with a little bird, or a ‘garrincha’ in his hands. “Look, it’s just like you,” she said. The name has stuck ever since. His family struggled and his father suffered from alcoholism, a trait that Garrincha would unfortuneatly inherit. To add to his problems, the young boy was born with several birth defects which included a deformed spine, a right lef bent inwards and a left leg that was six centimetres shorter than the right and was bent outwards. Upon medical consultation, doctors informed the young boy that he would never be able to play professionally, but he defied them and proved them wrong.

But Garrincha never planned on being a footballer anyway. At 14 he was working in a factory, and was oblivious to the phenomenal talent he possessed. Even if he didn’t know it, the scouts did, and that is how he ended up at his first pro club aged 19. After being rejected by several clubs in the process, Botafogo FR gave him his break, with Gentil Cardoso recommending him to the club after being humiliated by Garrincha himself in a practice match. He made good first impressions, too. In one of his first training sessions he nutmegged Nilton Santos – who already had 16 caps for the national side.

The tricky right winger, who could also play in the middle of the attack, spent the majority of his career at Fogão, making over 500 domestic league appearances for El Solitaria, with a reply of over 200 goals. Garrincha estabilished himself in the squad and then earned a call-up to the national squad, something that without extreme perserverance and determination, seemed almost impossible all those years ago. He made his debut in September 1955, in a 1-1 draw with Chile. He was part of a formidable Selecão attack featuring set-piece specialist Didi, clinical finisher Vava and the ever-present Zagallo. Also, a young boy by the name of Pelé was grabbing the attention of the nation.

Vicente Feola’s Brazil squad became world champions that year in 1958 in Sweden, where the host nation were dispatched 5-2 by the young Brazilians, who were becoming a beast very quickly. After these amazing performances he was chased by the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and AC Milan, only to stay in his homeland. Four years later, Garrincha showed the world what he was capable of. Leading the scoring charts alongside compatriot Vava, the boy from humble beginnings blew away everyone with his energy, bamboozling tricks and searching runs and led his country to the final where they would face Czechslovakia. Despite not getting on the scoresheet in the final, he was credited with being one of the standout performers in Brazil’s second successive World Cup victory. Garrincha’s own manager credited him with being the player of the tournament.

50 games and 12 goals doesn’t seem a fair return for a player with the natural talent that Garrincha possessed. After leaving Botafogo in 1966 after 581 appearances and 232 goals, he never really established himself at any other club, spending seven years playing bit-part roles at lower-league clubs. In 1972 at Olaria, he decided to hang up his boots.

‘The Angel With Bent Legs’ tragically passed away in January 1983 aged a mere 49. The alcoholism he had been passed on by his father caught up to him, and it took away one of football’s legends, whose face is still seen on posters inside the Engenhão, Botafogo’s home ground, today.

Walter's avatar
About Walter

Football is my life, whether it be practising my penalties or hunched over my laptop playing FM. I am an avid follower of South American football with a heavy interest in the Brazilian leagues.

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