A timeless talent
Legendary Garrincha probably could've played today
Posted: Tuesday January 22, 2008 12:26PM; Updated: Tuesday January 22, 2008 12:47PM
This week marks 25 years since the sad, alcohol-sodden death of Garrincha, the bandy-legged genius rated as second only to Pelé in Brazil's pantheon. Over a period of eight years, while Garrincha and Pelé were both on the field, Brazil never lost a game.
It's fair to say that Garrincha's international prestige is higher than it has been for decades. A thoroughly researched biography by Brazilian writer Ruy Castro was published in the mid-1990s. Since then, the book has been translated into other languages, and the extraordinary story has captured the imagination of a generation of readers too young to have seen the great man in action.
All that remains are a few video clips and the testimony of those fortunate enough to have seen him play (check out a nice compilation here). But these are enough to speak volumes. As Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano said, "He was the man who gave more joy than anyone in the history of football."
From his position on the right wing, Garrincha transformed the game into a kind of bullfight where no one died. The worst that happened was that a succession of left backs were made to look ridiculous. He takes us back to a more innocent age, before the global game was caught in the vice-like grip of commercial interests.
How would he have fared today? It's a fascinating question, and one without a definitive answer. More than a decade ago, I had the chance to participate in a TV program where we spoke about Garrincha with some of his contemporaries -- others who, sadly, are no longer around to tell their stories.
It's certainly true that Garrincha's fame suffered somewhat from the fact that his career just predated the era of mass television. But Flavio Costa thought that he also benefited from this process. Costa is a heavyweight in the history of Brazilian soccer, a coach of the national team who also won titles with Flamengo and Vasco da Gama.
His Flamengo side once caught Garrincha, who starred for Rio rivals Botafogo, on an inspired day -- but even so, Costa thinks the right winger was at his best at international level, against players who had seen little of him.
"He was an unusual player," said Costa. "He always did the same thing. He was very fast, was very fast with the ball, but in domestic football, there were players who knew him well, and he wasn't so successful. When he played for Brazil, against foreign teams, generally Garrincha surprised them. He always made the same move."
The move to which he is referring is the one where Garrincha teases the full back, then bursts past him on the outside and pulls the ball across goal. In the World Cup wins of 1958 and '62, it was then the task of center forward Vavá to get in front of his marker and steer the cross into the goal.
Vavá recalled Garrincha as "a different kind of player. With those physical defects, people couldn't imagine that he would do the things he did. He had a lot of speed, and you can see that he was a player of short sprints. You never saw him make runs of 30 meters because he would fall over, with those bandy legs. So he gave a short sprint and stopped, and then did it again."