The mighty Pelé often overshadowed Brazilian players of bygone generations. Still, there were some whose stars shone just as bright and sometimes brighter than their legendary teammate. One of these iconic athletes was Mane Garrincha, a tricky speedster who defined the winger position and became one of his nation’s most revered players.
The Little Bird
Manuel Francisco dos Santos received the nickname Mané Garrincha (the Little Bird) from his sister when he was a child because of his slight, fragile frame.
Even though he was born with a physical disability—an inward-turning right leg that was six centimeters shorter than his outward-turning left leg—he pursued his dream of becoming a football player.
A pacy winger with devastating close control, skill, and sheer magic, Mane Garrincha made his international match debut against Chile in 1955 at just 21 years old.
Over the next decade, he would rack up fifty caps for the Brazil national team, and it was on the biggest stage where he truly excelled.
Mane Garrincha Rise To Stardom
Mane Garrincha introduced himself to the world soccer fans at the 1958 World Cup. After some uninspiring early performances from his team, Brazil coach Vicente Feola switched things up by starting Pelé and Garrincha against the Soviet Union, which worked wonders.
After sitting out the first two games, Garrincha decided to show the world his ability. The Brazilian dribbled past two defenders just three minutes in his first match and hit the post.
As a result of Garrincha’s impressive performance, Brazil won the game 2-0 against the Russians. Brazil never lost a match while fielding Garrincha and Pelé in the same starting line-up.
The two mercurial attackers transformed the side from a sluggish struggler to an unbeatable juggernaut, culminating in the Seleção winning their first World Cup in 1958.
1958 And 1962 World Cup Finals
Brazil fell behind 0-1 to Sweden early in the final but quickly equalized after Garrincha surpassed his marker on the right wing and crossed for Vavá to score. The score became 2–1 when Garrincha made a similar dribble to set up Vavá before the half ended.
Brazil won the match and won its first World Cup title. Four years later, with Pelé out injured, Mané Garrincha took center stage at the 1962 World Cup.
The professional football player scored four goals. His spectacular performances earned him the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball and, most importantly, helped his nation defend its World Cup trophy.
Unfortunately, in 1966, Brazil embarrassingly exited the World Cup in the group stages despite having both Mane Garrincha and Pelé in its arsenal.
A 3–1 loss to Hungary in the second game marked Garrincha’s only ever defeat in a Brazilian soccer jersey, and it was his final appearance for his national team.
Garrincha’s first game with Botafogo was on June 21, 1953, in a friendly against Avelar. The score: 1 to 0, goal by Garrincha.
On the way back from the away game, the physical trainer Paulo Amaral, responsible for the mixed team, would put in his report that the player had a single defect: he dribbled too much!
In one of the games, Garrincha dribbled the entire team but gave the ball to a teammate to score the goal. Everyone was dumbfounded. Why hadn’t he scored himself?
Nobody knew that the joy was only in dribbling for the Angel of the Crooked Legs.
In the medical examination, it was found that the player had his right knee turned in, and his left knee turned out, a dislocation in the pelvis, his left leg six centimeters shorter than the right, and he was slightly squinted.
Most Skilled Football Player
For many, Garrincha was the most skilled football player who ever lived. Owner of an incredible ability to dribble, he is the ultimate symbol of Botafogo in its history.
After trying his luck and being rejected at Vasco and São Cristóvão (because of his crooked legs and the deflection he had in his spine), Garrincha went to train at Botafogo.
In his first move, he put the ball between the legs of the legendary left-back Nilton Santos and ended up being signed immediately.
For Botafogo, he played 608 matches and scored 245 goals. He won three Cariocas Championships (1957, 61 and 62) and two Rio-São Paulo Tournaments (1962 and 1964).
Mane Garrincha’s Legacy
The Brazilian was the first of his kind, the original winger, a position that has since undergone several evolutions.
Wide players, like Mane Garrincha, were deadly weapons up against the old back three, but the arrival of the four-man backline eventually rendered ineffective their primary strength of exploiting the space behind defenders.
As a result, wingers became more than just pure athletes with the occasional trick in their repertoire.
Even players who operate in more complex roles, like “mezzale” (half wingers), had to adapt to modern football, and nowadays, they are some of the most effective protagonists on the soccer field.
Mané Garrincha’s dazzling dribbling ability made him a Botafogo fan favorite, and he was aptly dubbed “the Joy of the People.” Aside from Botafogo, at the end of his career, Garrincha played a handful of games for Corinthians, Atletico Junior, Flamengo, and Olaria.
Unfortunately, the soccer player prematurely passed away at just 49 years old, and had struggled with alcohol abuse his entire adult life. He was a victim of cirrhosis of the liver.
His last years were unhappy and obscure as he became a physical and mental wreck due to martial and financial challenges. Garrincha’s funeral procession drew millions of football fans to the streets for their last glimpse of one of the greatest and most talented players.
Mane Garrincha Stadium
After his death, a bust bearing his image was placed inside the hallowed halls of the Estadio Maracanã to commemorate his brilliance at this famous ground.
The Brazilian community has shown further respect by building a new stadium called the Estádio Nacional Mane Garrincha. The Mane Garrincha Stadium is the second biggest in the country and was opened in 1974. Mane was 40 years old when this stadium officially opened.
Following the standards of one of the most modern cities in the country in terms of architecture, the Mane Garrincha stadium is one of the most imposing and the second largest, with a capacity of 72,788 spectators.
The old Mane Garrincha stadium, practically demolished, gave way to an arena with a new facade, a metal structure cover, new bleachers, and a lowered lawn to allow a complete view of the game.
They updated the name before the 2014 World Cup to Estádio Nacional de Brasília. The locals still call it the Mane Garrincha stadium.
The newly built Mane Garrincha stadium focused on zero carbon emissions, recycling, and total access through public transport. It consolidates the capital’s name as a world reference in sustainable planning, leaving an important legacy to other sectors of the local economy.
The old Mane Garrincha stadium (Estádio Nacional de Brasília) hosted the opening ceremony of the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013, in addition to seven other matches of the FIFA World Cup 2014, including a quarter final.
The Little Bird will always be remembered as one of the best to grace a soccer pitch.
Mane Garrincha Facts And Figures
Garrincha Full Name: Manuel Francisco dos Santos
Birthplace: Magé, Rio de Janeiro
Died: 20/01/1983 (Age 49)
Garrincha Position: Right Wing
- Serrano 1951
- Botafogo 1953–1965
- Corinthians 1966
- Atlético Junior 1968
- Flamengo 1968–1969
- Olaria 1972
National Team Career:
- Brazil 1955-1966 (50 appearances, 12 goals)
Playing Career Honors:
- 1957, 1961, and 1962: State Championship
- 1962: Interstate Cup Champions Club
- 1962 and 1964: Rio-São Paulo Tournament Winners
- 1963: World Champion Clubs (Paris Intercontinental Championship)
- 1966: Rio-São Paulo Tournament Winners
- 1958 and 1962: FIFA World Cups Winners
- 1958 and 1962: FIFA World Cup All-Star Team
- 1962: FIFA World Cup Golden Ball
- 1962: FIFA World Cup Golden Boot
- 1962: Ballon d’Or International Winner
- 1970: Brazilian Football Museum Hall of Fame
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!