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A timeless talent (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday January 22, 2008 12:26PM; Updated: Tuesday January 22, 2008 12:47PM
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Brazil likely wouldn't have won its second World Cup in '62 without the improvisational skills of Garrincha (not pictured).
Brazil likely wouldn't have won its second World Cup in '62 without the improvisational skills of Garrincha (not pictured).

It's clear, then that the physical development of the modern game would present Garrincha with problems. He was playing at a time when players ran perhaps a third of the current 7½ miles per match which, nowadays, is covered by many. It would be much harder for him to impose his stop-start rhythm, space would be more difficult to find and modern methods of marking would also provide complications.

In Garrincha's time, soccer was still largely characterized as a series of one-on-one duels. The right winger is playing against the left back, the left winger is up against the right back -- and while they're engaged in their own private battle, everyone else on the field is watching them.

To counter Garrincha, some teams did twice or even three times the marking on him, but they obediently formed a line, like villains in a James Bond movie, each waiting for his turn to be humiliated rather than all going in at once. A latter-day Garrincha wouldn't be able to shine consistently in the same way as before. But that doesn't mean he wouldn't be able to shine.

It's interesting that some of the eulogies to him in the international press have dwelt on how two-footed he was. This perhaps bears out Costa's point that he was not really known abroad. In Brazil, Garrincha was once asked why he only ever used his right foot.

"If I kick with both feet, I'll fall over," he said, putting a conclusive end to that line of questioning -- and also showing a ready wit that would seem to belie the image of a totally unsophisticated nature child which journalists close to him loved to convey.

But by the time the '62 World Cup rolled around, with Pelé injured in the second game and Brazil fielding an side which had grown old together, it was then Garrincha suddenly revealed the extent of his talent. Instead of playing on the right wing, he played from it, and astonished even his fans by scoring goals with his left foot and with his head.

It's for that reason Garrincha would be able to cope with 21st-century soccer. The truly great player is defined by his capacity to improvise solutions. He found a way when his team needed it in '62, and a latter-day Garrincha would find a way in '08.

As Zizinho, another of Brazil's all-time greats, said of him, "A kick around or playing against the best in the world, for him it was all the same. He was a bit irresponsible, which at times is good in a footballer. He had no fear of risking everything -- he risked everything all the time."

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