20 Days to go: Garrincha, a soccer genius who died too young

    25 de mayo de 2018

    Bogota, May 25 (EFE).- Mane Francisco dos Santos, known affectionately as "Garrincha," "The Angel with Bent Legs" and the "Joy of the People," was just 49 when he died on Jan. 20, 1983, but the Brazilian dribbling magician will be remembered for overcoming birth defects to become one of soccer's greatest superstars.

    Garrincha, who grew up among 15 siblings in Mage, in the southeastern state of Rio de Janeiro, did not appear have a sporting career in his future when he was born with a right leg 6 centimeters (2.4 inches) shorter than his left and both of them crooked.

    But he was able to turn his apparent handicap into a competitive advantage.

    Mane's struggles with his condition and his extreme restlessness inspired his sister Rosa to nickname him "Garrincha," after a bird common in the Rio region that, according to local folklore, would rather die than be taken captive.

    Garrincha was a 14-year-old competing for Esporte Club Pau Grande when he was discovered by former Botafogo player Araty Viana, marking the start of a lifelong love affair between the right winger and forward and the Rio-based Lone Star club, his team from 1953 to 1965.

    He was a member of the national team at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, and it was there that he first connected on the field with his kindred spirit: 17-year-old phenom Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known around the world as Pele.

    Led by Pele, the tournament's top young player, and midfielder extraordinaire Didi, Brazil won the first of its five World Cup titles at that event.

    At the 1962 World Cup in Chile, Garrincha led the team after Pele was injured in the second round-robin game, scoring four goals and being named the tournament's top player.

    Brazil's rivals at the 1966 World Cup in England used brutal defensive tactics to neutralize Garrincha and Pele, who were held to a goal apiece and failed to secure a berth for their team to the knockout stage.

    That marked the last time international soccer fans would see those two legendary players competing on soccer's biggest stage.

    While Pele would achieve his greatest glory at the 1970 World Cup, Garrincha was on his way out of the sport by that time and beginning an ugly final chapter of his life.

    Struggling with serious alcohol and marital problems, he died of cirrhosis of the liver in Rio de Janeiro, where a funeral procession on Jan. 21, 1983, drew hundreds of thousands of fans.

    Brazil has had many extraordinary players, including those who will soon begin showcasing their skills at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, which gets under way in just 20 days, but few as beloved as Garrincha.