Garrincha – Biography by Ruy Castro

Alex Bellos’ book on Brazilian football (Futebol) contains a chapter on Garrincha (The Angel with Bent Legs). The source of the chapter lies in Ruy Castro’s biography, just issued in paperback and translated by Bellos himself.

Garrincha is no Pele. Where the latter had a business manager, a product endorsement programme and understanding of financial management, Garrincha stuffed the money he earned in his fruitbowl. When Pele and Garrincha played in the same Brazil team, they were never beaten. In Sweden 1958, on their way to world cup success, Garrincha also found the time to leave a little piece of himself in a local lady. Just one of an endless stream of illegitimate kids. He was married three times, put it about like a horny teenager and eventually drank himself to a shadow and died in poverty.

It’s frustrating to read about a South American footballer who played 40-50 years ago because the footage isn’t easy to dig out. I found a Brazil Legends DVD which contains some wonderful action of the man at the World Cup in Chile, four years later. He teases the defender, disguising the ball then sprinting down the wing without it. The defender gamely follows him, oblivious to the deception. Unsurprisingly Garrincha’s legs were well bruised. It must be tormenting for a defender, playing against a footballer who just loved beating him. Black and white showboating. Fortunately with first Pele and Vava, then Amarildo knocking the goals in, he could get away with it.

The amazing thing is this; he had one leg six centimetres shorter than the other and his legs were bent in an unnatural stance. He looks like he should topple over in the wind, but somehow he used it to his advantage and his balance and acceleration were everything that made him. It’s a brilliant 100 mph story and just when you think he’s kicked the booze and depression and is ready to get himself fit one last time, he kills his mother-in-law while drunk behind the wheel of his car.

Any recommendations for DVD footage or related articles most welcome.