VINE VOICEon 26 January 2006
Although some people may disagree - the entire population of Argentina, I suspect - Brazil are widely considered the top dogs of world soccer. As a nation they've won the World Cup five times and the Maracanã - where Brazil play their home games - is one of the sport's most famous stadiums. Any discussion about the soccer's greatest players will feature several Brazilians - Pelé, Jairzinho, Zico, Romário, Bebeto, Falcão, Sócrates and Ronaldinho would surely be in contention. Manuel Francisco dos Santos, most commonly known as "Garrincha", may not be as widely known as his countrymen but he fully deserves to be included on that list. He is, however, quite clearly honoured in his home country where he is still known as the "Joy of the People".
Garrincha was born in 1933 in a small town called Pau Grande. Amazingly, for such a gifted sportsman, he was born with 'bent' legs - his left bent out and his right bent in. When young, he was also smaller than the kids his own age and was christened 'garrincha' (the local name for a 'little bird') by his sister. His hometown was founded by the English in the 1870s and was centred around the América Fabril factory - the factory, it seems, practically employed the town's entire population. The town's soccer club - Sport Club Pau Grande - was founded in 1908 and, although an amateur team, was the first senior club Garrincha played for. He eventually moved to Botafogo, one of Rio's professional teams - it was here he played his best football, and he won the Carioca (Rio's State Championship) several times. He played for Brazil 60 times, winning the World Cup twice; he dismantled and demoralised the highly-rated USSR team in the 1958 Finals and, some say, won the tournament nearly single-handedly in 1962. Garrincha, however, played primarily for enjoyment - he didn't always turn up for training and still enjoyed playing with his friends on Pau Grande's dangerous pitch. Money seemed nearly irrelevant to him and he was practically taken advantage of by his club's directors. He'd regularly sign a blank contract, with the salary to be filled in later - as the team's star player he was then paid less than he was worth.
Garrincha's life was also hugely colourful off the pitch. He was, allegedly, very well endowed, which may help explain why he was so popular with the ladies. He fathered (at least) 14 children by 5 different women, including eight daughters with his first wife, Nair, and a son in Sweden - conceived while on tour with Botafogo. It seems he was anything other than a devoted husband to Nair. Throughout his marriage to her, he regularly chased other women - he had a number of girlfriends and one-night stands and had children with several of them. Only one woman came close to 'taming' him : Elza Soares, a well-known singing star and every Brazilian man's fantasy. The pair met in 1961 and began their affair the following year. However, the public were less than impressed when news of their relationship broke, something that caused a great deal of trouble for them. Garrincha also suffered from alcoholism - cachaça, made from fermented sugar cane, was a particular favourite - and it was this affliction that led to his death at the age of 49. It also caused a great deal of trouble for his friends, relations and colleagues.
The book is subtitled "The Triumph and Tragedy of Brazil's Forgotten Footballing Hero" and, as time goes by, the tragedies become more and more commonplace. At times, it is very difficult not to feel sorry for Garrincha, Nair and Elza - I certainly felt a great deal of regret that things didn't work out differently. The book was written by Ruy Castro, and was originally published in 1995 - he has quite clearly researched the book meticulously and has written a very engaging book. A great deal of credit must also go to Andrew Downie, who translated the book into English in 2004. A highly recommended book, that should appeal to more than just the soccer fan - largely because of Garrincha's colourful personal life. However, because of his personal life, I wouldn't think it's ideal reading for the kids !