Garrincha: the founding father of jogo bonito

Ryan Benson

The age-old debate regarding the greatest player of all-time has undoubtedly become tiresome, probably partly down to the fact that two current individuals – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – have a claim to such a title and all we ever seem to hear about is their duel for world supremacy.

Historically, meaning before Ronaldo and Messi, there seemed to be a general consensus that Pele or Diego Maradona held the title and most people would favour one or the other. But there are those whom the very best idolised beforehand, and one in particular stands out.

Mane Garrincha is certainly considered to be one of the best footballers ever, but he is perhaps more of a left-field suggestion when conversation specifically turns to the best ever. His talent was undeniable, however.

Born with his right leg bent inwards and his left bent outwards, by no means did Garrincha physically fit the bill of an athlete, but as a rapid and skilful winger he was able to use his situation to his advantage as star for Botafogo and Brazil.

He was a key component of the Brazil team which won the 1958 World Cup in Sweden and along the way they beat Wales in the quarter-finals. Mel Hopkins was their left-back and gave a personal account of how Garrincha’s unusual shape made him unplayable.

“He attacked with such pace and I believe he was more of a danger than Pele at the time – he was a phenomenon, capable of sheer magic.

“It was difficult to know which way he was going to go because of his legs and because he was as comfortable on his left foot as his right, so he could cut inside or go down the line and he had a ferocious shot too.”

Mel Hopkins to BBC Sport.

He was similarly brilliant in Chile four years later, inspiring Brazil to a second successive World Cup in the absence of the injured Pele and was the player of the tournament.

Garrincha was an unbelievable dribbler who also had no problem finding the net. On the football pitch ‘the little bird’ possessed an almost unrivalled grace;  this incredible ability to float past markers effortlessly.

“Garrincha was an incredible player, one of the best there has ever been. He could do things with the ball that no other player could do and without Garrincha, I would have never been a three-times world champion.”


But away from the pitch his issues consumed him, and his amateur approach to a professional career ultimately proved to be his downfall.

Garrincha was controlled by his alcoholic desires and had a fondness for women, eventually reportedly fathering at least 14 children.

That dependency on the bottle was only increased when in 1969 he drove into a lorry and his mother-in-law was killed, while eight years later he struck his wife while drunk and she swiftly threw him out.

Garrincha’s greatness as a player perhaps further supports the idea that his life was more tragedy than triumph, particularly when it is considered that this footballer, so immensely talented and carefree, died at 49, broke, alone and torn apart by alcohol in 1983.

To many, Garrincha’s legacy is his off-field persona; the stories of womanising, partying and fathering almost countless children.

But to real lovers of football, his fathering of ‘Jogo bonito’ is his actual legacy.

Did Garrincha make our all-time combined best Argentina and Brazil XI, though?

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