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4.8 out of 5 stars
Garrincha: The Triumph and Tragedy of Brazil's Forgotten Footballing Hero
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on 10 March 2017
A tragic account of one of the greatest footballers in history. Far from being a hagiography, the book tells a quite amazing story about not just one man but about an ancient way of life which somehow mixed fricticiously with the 20th century. Insightful and beautifully told.
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on 22 August 2017
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on 11 August 2017
what a book, unbelievable story
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on 14 April 2006
The life of Garrincha has all the hallmarks of a tragic film. From Brazilian poverty through to the highs of winning the World Cup and starring in the 1962 World Cup to the dramatic lows of alcholism, broken families and an early and painful death. It would be easy to overdramatise and exaggerate such a life in a written account. However, Ruy Castro expertly avoids this pitfall. Instead, Castro presents a tragic and balanced portrait of one of Brazil's sporting heroes in an immensely readable and intelligent account.

From a British perspective, one has heard much about Garrincha and his wizadry in the World Cups of 1958 and 1962 but know little about his life apart from his early life. Castro fills in many gaps about Garrincha and makes this one of the best football biographies written in the last few years.
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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 !
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on 10 November 2012
This is one of the finest sports biographies that has ever been written, a true tale of rags to (not quite) riches and then back down to rags.

The book charts the life of Garrincha, who was fabled for his dribbling and is arguably one of the finest footballers to have ever graced a pitch - a feat all the more amazing given that he was born with bent legs (his right leg pointing inwards and his left leg pointing outwards). However, he was equally as carefree with money, alcohol and women as he was a great footballer, and it was this attitude that resulted in his career and life being tragically cut short. George Best looks like an amateur in comparison to Garrincha.

The book is incredibly well-researched and much credit needs to go to the author for this - there are all manner of anecdotes that will have you crying with laughter, shaking your head in disbelief and making you cry. For example, there was the time during one game where Garrincha bamboozled his marker so much, the defender fell to the floor as he ran past him. Instead of carrying on, Garrincha dribbled back to his opponent, picked him up off the turf and then carried on down the wing. But unable to organise anything in his life other than his booze-ups, meant that Garrincha was at the mercy of the clubs he played for, his various agents, hangers on and his family (given he was fathering children left right and centre, his family was getting larger every year). But it was the clubs who took most advantage of him by making him sign practically blank contracts (with salary figures to be added in due course). It meant Garrincha never earned what he was due - although he never seemed to care as all he wanted to do was to play brilliant football. And because of that, he was successful - helping Brazil win its first two World Cup triumphs in 1958 and 1962, was joint top scorer and named player of the tournament at the second and collected three Rio State Championships with Botafogo. Many players of the time, as the book reveals, thought Garrincha was a more dangerous player than Pele. The same Garrincha sometimes never bothered to turn up to training and could often be found drunk.

But following a knee injury that became long-term and botched operations to correct the injury, Garrincha's career spiralled downwards uncontrollably - desperately trying to ply his trade with any club who would take him. And it is this tragedy where the author excels at painting the protagonist's life. Should you feel sorry for Garrincha? Was it his fault? Or was he a pathetic character? The author allows you to make your own judgement in this beautifully written book. You feel you're there next to Garrincha and witnessing him at first hand. There's no filler and padding, which makes this book very hard to put down. Every page has more stunning revelations than the last, yet the author still manages to create a story that has you amazed.

Modern football has very few characters - and I'm not talking about the ones who find themselves splashed over the Sunday tabloids; they're all vain superstars who the average Joe cannot relate to. Modern football biogs are the same - soulless. This book is different - it has everything a biography should have and even if you don't like football, you'll still enjoy this book.
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on 18 August 2004
Until a couple of weeks ago, Garrincha was a name I could only vaguely associate with Brazilian football, no more than that. I couldn't tell you when he played, which position or for whom, a sharp contrast with Brazilian football luminaries like Pele, Zico, Romario and Ronaldo. So I was taken back to find out that in Brazil, he's more popular than all of them.

He's consistently voted into "all time best 11's" including FIFA's, yet his best days were prior to 1963 and there's hardly any video footage of him. You'd have to be in your 50's to remember him while he was playing, but he must have been some player for his flame to be kept alive by word-of-mouth.

The introduction says that Garrincha was more George Best than George Best, and it seems a good comparison, but Garrincha did it first and did it better. Sadly, that included drinking, and where George survived Garrincha didn't.

This is ultimately a dark story, I bought it on the off chance, read it in a couple of days and have spent the ensuing week trawling websites trying to find out more about the enigmatic Garrincha, who played football just for the sheer joy of it.

I really wish I could have seen him play...
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on 13 October 2013
A book i couldnt put down, a definate recommendation to anyone who loves football, mavericks and amazing stories. A story that has everything, and a great insight as to why this man doesnt get the recognition he deserves. He is the best player of all time.

An amazing read, that takes you to 1950s Brazil - can never fail!
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on 8 March 2014
It's just a masterpiece of work, you get a wonderful look - with love and humor but without making things looking prettier than they are - into Garrinchas' soul as a person and footballer. And it is not only about Manuel dos Santos Garrincha but Castro gives the reader a wonderful insight into Brasilian life culture and history. A must for everyone who wants to know Brasil and peek into the minds of the kids on the street and of course learn about probably the best footballer ever not named Pele or Maradona. Only blemish - the book was in a worse condition than publicized but still whole and for less than 2£ a fair deal. Highly recommended. Should be republished.
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on 27 February 2014
A few years before this book was published I was going to write an essay about Garrincha. Because before this book there was literally nothing out there on him. Scant information on the internet- and I ended up giving up. After reading this book and having to pick my jaw up several times I am glad that I did not participate in what would have been a fruitless project. This book is simply astonishing. It deals with all aspects of Garrincha's life. By the end you almost feel like you once knew the little bird.

He had wonderful moments in his life, but the truth is that most of it, even when he was successful was a living nightmare. Though that nghtmare always seems to have been brought on by himself. It was a different generation and Garrincha took everything to the max. A shame and a great loss. It's horrible to think of the gap he had with Pele outside of football. Not Pele's fault, but it does reflect life in general.

A great read but don't expect to feel uplifted by the end.
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