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Garrincha: The bird with clipped wings

On June 15, 1958, Garrincha made his Brazil debut against Soviet Union at the World Cup finals. He was joined by another debutant - 17-year-old Pele - but it was the 24-year-old outside right who was to light up the stage that day, reducing the Soviet defence to ruins.

It provided Garrincha the springboard he needed to establish a reputation as one of the most gifted players the world had seen, a phenomenon who lit up the World Cups of 1958 and 1962. Even so, his was not an especially happy story, the postscript telling of a man whose alcoholism caused terminal damage to himself and others. A psychological assessment while with the national team found him to be "obviously infantile" and, in a story that threatens to divert attention from his abilities, biographer Ruy Castro wrote that he lost his virginity, aged 12, to a goat.

From the outset, he was to be marked out as different. Born in the Rio de Janeiro village of Pau Grande in 1933, the midwife noticed immediately his crooked legs. His left was also two inches shorter than the right, and his spine was deformed. Allied to a spindly frame, the youngster was to develop a swaying walk whose avian characteristics led him to be known as 'Garrincha', or 'Little Bird'.

His physique did not appear to lend itself to a career in sport and, with life in Pau Grande centred on its textile factory, his athletic prospects looked limited. Until he was 12, Garrincha studied at the school maintained by the factory, and at 14 he began working there nine hours a day, pushing a handcart around to collect finished garments. "People would say when I was out walking: 'Poor boy, he is lamed. Poor little cripple.' All because I was bow-legged," Garrincha said in a serialised column for the Daily Express in 1962. "But I never felt different from anyone else. My bow-legs didn't stop me 'dribbling' my handcart between the narrow rows of machines."

The village factory had its own football team, and Garrincha had his chance to impress, but his alcoholic father was fiercely opposed to his son's appearances for the side each Sunday. "I became an outside right because it was the furthest position from the watchful eye of my father," Garrincha explained. "It gave me a start so that I could run away from the game whenever he discovered me playing, for punishment would surely follow. You see, we were poor and my father wanted more for me than he thought football could give."

Even at 14, he was the star of the Pau Grande team and he decided to pursue a career in football. He asked for a trial at Vasco da Gama - "because it was the closest club to the train station" - but was ignored. "I think my bow-legs impressed them badly. Next week the same thing happened at the Fluminense club, so I gave up." It was only when scoring four goals for Pau Grande in a match refereed by Botafogo wing-half Arati in 1953 that his potential was recognised, and he was invited for a trial.

Upon arrival, he explained that he was an outside right. The Botafogo coach, Gentil Cardoso, laughed and said he would therefore be coming up against Nilton Santos, then considered the best left-back in the world. Garrincha nutmegged him. "He is always a gentleman and he let me show my tricks," Garrincha later said. "Anyway, I won our duel, Nilton said I should stay, and I signed a contract."

So impressive was his performance in training that, he said, he was thrust into the Botafogo first team the following Sunday. They trailed Bonsucesso 2-0 after half an hour, but Garrincha netted a debut hat-trick and found himself in the newspapers the following morning. He was 19 then, and had already married and impregnated his 16-year-old childhood sweetheart.

Two years later, he made his debut for Brazil. Numerous top clubs around Europe had made attempts to sign him after he impressed during tours with his club, but it was not until the World Cup of 1958 that his journey to superstardom began in earnest, and it could have turned out very differently.

He was not selected for the first two games of the World Cup - a victory over Austria followed by a draw with England - as boss Vicente Feola harboured doubts. Fitness coach Paulo Amaral had put together a scouting report that warned that, for all his ability, the player was a risk: "I wrote that Garrincha is a formidable player, but he has one very small defect: he dribbles far too much." It was a frequent criticism - one that was "never resolved," Amaral said - but not one that ever caused Garrincha to rethink his approach. "I have had my trouble with coaches," he said in the Express. "Often they have tried to limit - even forbid - my expressing myself in a game.

"Maybe that's why I have so little respect for them. Even under the treatment of losing my place in the team I have never changed my way of playing. I had a feeling I was right, the coaches were wrong. If I advise a young player when he begins, I tell him only: 'Learn how to dribble'. Because then, I tell him, your play will be gay and you will be loved, and you will have glory, fame, and money, if you want such things."

Botafogo boss Joao Saldanha did not have a problem with it, either. "Garrincha never attacked the opposition in his whole life," he said after taking control of the national team in 1970. "They came at him and were destroyed."

When given his chance, Garrincha's dribbling took Soviet Union apart. He launched into an instant attack and hit the post on 40 seconds. Almost immediately afterwards, he set up Pele, who also hit the post. On three minutes, Garrincha helped set up Vava for the opening goal, and Brazil went on to win the game 2-0. At one point in the match, he left a defender for dead before putting his foot on the ball and helping him back to his feet; he then dribbled past him again.

He starred alongside Pele, Didi and Vava to take Brazil past Wales and France and, ahead of the final against hosts Sweden, Tottenham legend Danny Blanchflower wrote in a preview for The Guardian: "Right-winger Garrincha, with animal-like speed and instinct, is a bewildering player whose shadow must lead a frustrating experience trying to keep up with him."

The young Pele, with two goals, was to take the headlines as Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 to become world champions, but Garrincha had excelled. "I believe this World Cup final saw football from Brazil as near to perfection as 11 men may ever achieve," Bob Pennington wrote in the Express. "The little masters from Brazil were inspired to write the greatest soccer symphony of our time by a brown-skinned boy who calls himself Garrincha. Today the 'little bird' has soared like an eagle to become a living legend throughout South America."

After the World Cup, though, Garrincha's womanising and alcoholism became more prominent. He was dropped from the Brazil side and, during a tour of Sweden with Botafogo in May 1959, he fathered a son with a local girl. He also lost much of his 800,000 Brazilian cruzeiro (£2,500) World Cup bonus. He made a 200,000 cruzeiro (£625) donation to the factory in Pau Grande but kept much of the rest under his mattress - "I do not believe in banks," he later explained - only to rediscover it, years later, rotten through persistent bed-wetting.

In 1959, he also drunkenly ran over his father, who died as a result of liver cancer not long afterwards. Garrincha's own responsibilities as a father were growing, meanwhile, with his wife giving birth to their fifth daughter and his mistress announcing the birth of another child. "Hey Garrincha!" they would chant in Rio. "You can fool them on the football field - but you can't fool that stork!"

Despite the personal commotion that was threatening to derail his career, Garrincha reached his pinnacle at the 1962 World Cup. Pele, who scored in the opening 2-0 victory over Mexico, was injured during the 0-0 draw with Czechoslovakia that followed and played no further part; Garrincha happily stepped into the breach. He set up the winner in the final group game, a 2-1 win over Spain, and proved phenomenal in a 3-1 victory over England in the quarter-finals, scoring a goal in each half.

In the semi-final against hosts Chile, he scored twice again, this time in a 4-2 victory, but the occasion was to be marked by controversy - Garrincha was sent from the field late on, along with Chile forward Honorino Landa. "Okay, I was sent off," Garrincha said afterwards. "All afternoon I am kicked. There is a limit to the time when a man must be a man. When I was kicked I struck back. I had been roughly treated and spat on. My legs were bruised and bleeding. Finally I put my foot up. Unhappily, it landed in the stomach of [Eladio] Rojas. Afterwards we met as good friends because we know the heat of a great game clouds minds."

Tancredo Neves, the Brazilian Prime Minister, sent FIFA a telegraph appealing for leniency, and the governing body agreed: Garrincha would be able to face Czechoslovakia in the final. It was to be crucial, particularly as Pele failed his fitness test; Brazil had looked surprisingly nervous in the opening stages until Garrincha kick-started their challenge and, after a hard-fought 90 minutes, they won 3-1 courtesy of goals from Amarildo, Zito and Vava. With his four goals, Garrincha was the competition's joint top scorer and was also handed the Golden Ball for best player. He said in August that year: "I am told these days it is time for me to become a serious man. 'Garrincha,' say my friends, 'You have outstripped the fame of Pele, your name runs over the world.' My answer is that I find popularity tiresome and I refuse to be serious."

As after the 1958 success, Garrincha would suffer from his refusal to take his responsibilities seriously, and the trouble began immediately after the final was over. As the players celebrated, naked, in the dressing room at the end of the game, samba singer Elza Soares had walked in. An affair began and when he left his wife and eight daughters for Soares - who had also previously been married - the sense of scandal in the country was so intense that the pair, regularly harassed in Rio, were even attacked when they returned to Pau Grande.

On-field matters were little better. He was suspended by Botafogo in March 1963 for a lack of discipline and, in June, his club agreed a deal with Inter Milan worth £400,000, which would have smashed the world transfer record. However, he had been suffering with a knee cap injury suffered earlier in the year and the move collapsed. In August, Garrincha was arrested in Rio after he ran over and seriously injured a ten-year-old boy and, by November, Botafogo's official asking price had plummeted to £114,200.

In early 1966, he finally left Botafogo and joined fellow Brazilian side Corinthians, which sparked a revival in form significant enough for Brazil boss Vicente Feola to pencil him into his plans for the World Cup in England. "I am confident he will make the squad," he said in March. "He has the enthusiasm of a young boy - he even trained during the recent carnival in Rio."

His inclusion for the finals ultimately proved to be a mistake, even though he scored a stunning 25-yard free-kick against Bulgaria in the opening match. Brazil crashed out at the group stage, with Garrincha's final appearance coming in a 3-1 defeat to Hungary in the second game. "We have a different Garrincha from '58 and '62," Dr Hilton Gosling, Brazil's medical adviser and spokesman, said. "He doesn't run so often." Journalist Hugh McIlvanney described Garrincha as an "anachronism" in The Guardian and added: "I said before the competition that the Brazilian selectors appeared to be insuring themselves against violent recriminations by choosing legendary heroes whose greatness was palpably behind them."

In January 1967, he was placed on the transfer list by Corinthians after he failed to appear for the start of the new season, and a series of moves followed with little success. In April 1969, he was involved in another car crash, this time hitting a lorry, and killed his mother-in-law in the process. He was given a two-year sentence for manslaughter, though later acquitted, and Soares described it as the worst period in his life. It only served to increase his alcoholism.

He was to have one last hurrah when 131,000 fans turned up to the Maracana in 1973 for his tribute match - he earned £100,000 for the encounter as a Brazil team featuring Pele beat an international XI 2-1.

Ten years later, in January 1983, he was back at the Maracana, but in tragic circumstances: his body lay in state in the national stadium after his death, at the age of 49, through cirrhosis of the liver. Among the thousands of mourners in attendance was Belini, the captain of Brazil's 1958 World Cup-winning side. "The news took us by surprise, although we knew his health was not good. He didn't manage to get over the drink problem," Belini said. "Perhaps we won't see another like him for 100, 150 years."


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