Brazil has this eternal reputation of bringing up technically gifted players. The country’s culture mixes football with samba and the joy of life – players grow up embedded in this context where football has a fantastic side, beauty over strategy, rebellion over rules, dribbling over everything else.
It’s very common nowadays to see players with a wide range of dribbling skills, stepovers, elasticos, amazing flicks. Almost all of that was learned from past references, someone that was already doing it before, the so-called greats. Manuel Francisco dos Santos was definitely one of them. The name may not ring a bell, but the nickname Mané Garrincha will forever echo as one of the world’s shiniest stars, a dribbling expert before dribbling was cool. A boy who defied logic and grew up to be “The Joy of the People”, showing Brazil and the rest of the world how beautiful football can be.
Born in 1933 and raised in a tiny village in the state of Rio de Janeiro, little Mané had a spirit as free as a bird (Garrincha is a very common bird species in the area). As a child, there was a clear abnormality in his body: his legs were both crooked and the right leg was shorter than the left one. It is not factual whether he had a congenital disease or acquired polio in his youth, but he would be known as the “Angel with Bent Legs” because of that physical feature.
As he miraculously developed as a footballer, local club E.C. Pau Grande were just mesmerized by his dazzling style of play, and so were many bigger teams. He left every spectator speechless when he dribbled past defenders, came back, went past them again just for fun, then dribbled them a third time just because. Playing as a right-winger, no one was ready for what was going to happen when the ball arrived at his feet.
Garrincha signed with Botafogo in 1953, where he would spend most of his career and write one of the most beautiful pages in the Brazilian club’s history. Year after year, he just sprawled magic throughout the stages he stepped in, a nightmare for all of Botafogo’s opponents. It was impossible to predict if he was going to drag the ball inwards, rush to the finishing line to cross it or simply play around with it, mocking defenders. He would reach international stardom alongside Pelé, Vavá, Nilton Santos and other superstars that would win Brazil’s first World Cup in 1958. Four years later, they would repeat the amazing feat and Brazil would conquer the world again, with Garrincha being considered Best Player of the Tournament. Meanwhile, he was a three-time winner of the Campeonato Carioca with Botafogo (state championship of Rio de Janeiro, there was no nationwide league at the time). There were plenty of opportunities for european experiences, but he would remain in Botafogo until 1965.
The late years brought short terms in Corinthians, Portuguesa, Atlético Junior (Colombia), Flamengo, Red Star (France) and Olaria. Manuel Francisco dos Santos always carried his personal lifestyle in the same carefree manner with which he played football – he would eventually die in 1983, at only 49 years of age, from liver cirrhosis, punished by a lifetime of frequent alcohol ingestion. The whole country mourned the loss of the Angel with Bent Legs.
His major accolades include:
- 621 matches, 243 goals
- 3 State Championships (Campeonato Carioca)
- 2 Interstate Championships (Torneio São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro)
- 1 Interstate Super Cup (Taça dos Campeões Estaduais Rio-São Paulo)
- 3 times named Best Player of the Season
- 2 FIFA World Cups
- 60 matches, 17 goals (only 1 loss – with him and Pelé playing together, Brazil was never defeated)
- Twice picked for the FIFA World Cup Dream Team
- Named Best Player of the FIFA World Cup in 1962
Besides his wide descendence (over a dozen children, exact number is debatable), Mané Garrincha left in the world a delicious scent of his quality, a scent that is forever remembered through pictures, video footage and the memories of those lucky ones who had the pleasure of watching him play.