By | March 5, 2015

At the beginning of this semester, I knew next to nothing about international soccer.  In fact, outside of my experience on a pee-wee soccer club, idolization of Mia Hamm as a kid, rooting for the USMNT during World Cup years, and time spent in Madrid, I knew very little about soccer at all.  One of the best parts of this class is the exposure to soccer on corners of the world; now that I know how truly impactful soccer is globally, I feel like I’m finally a member of a club that just about every single other person in the world (well, non-Americans) are a part of too.

This week, as we focus on Latin American soccer in class, I find myself captivated by one player in particular: Garrincha.  Every time his name comes up in any type of reading assignment we’ve done, I always pause and search YouTube for highlights.  I can’t help but audibly gasp (or laugh, or yell “WHAT!?”) at some of the tricks he pulls on his defenders—simply put, what he’s doing seems impossible.  His dexterity, flow, skill, and overall genius is a pleasure to take in.  He’s so good, it almost seems like he’s purposefully duping his defenders so elaborately, just for the heck of it.  Here is one of my favorite highlight reels:


Yet at the same time, Garrinca’s mastery of the dribble appear to be rooted not in a mechanical practicing, but in a more raw, natural unconventionality that can not be learned, only received by the Soccer Gods.  That may sound like hyperbole, but I think this attitude towards Garrincha is summed up well in David Goldblatt’s The Ball is Round.  “He found it impossible to listen to, let alone absorb, tactical talks… It was for Garrincha that the olé chant of the bullring and the toreador was transferred to football, the Rio crowd crying out with every feint and swerve that Garrincha inflicted on a hapless Argentine defender” (Goldblatt 373).  And, in comparing him to Pelé: “Pelé was O Rei – ‘the King’, honored, but ultimately distant, of another world.  Garrincha was O alegria de povo – ‘the joy of the people’, of this imperfect world, disabled, drunk, fragile and ultimately broken.  The King was and is revered but Garrincha was loved” (Goldblatt 376).

In other words, Garrincha and Pelé both were incredible representatives of futebol; but Garrincha embodied futebol arte.

One thought on “Garrincha

  1. Harrison Kalt

    Great article Danielle – I too knew very little about Garrincha prior to joining this class but was swept off of my feet upon watching only minutes of highlights. Reminiscent of a Lionel Messi in terms of his play on the ball, Garrincha truly embodied the joyful and beautiful style of play that is Brazilian football. Narrated as a unique way of using the body, with the “sway of capoeira” and the unique rhythm of samba, this style of play is deeply-rooted in the play of Manuel dos Santos, known popularly as Garrincha. Garrincha was an incredibly unique athlete, revolutionizing his own take on the Brazilian style of football. Unlike most, he did not value tactical schemes, extremely physical training, or anything that seemed to him to be preparatory. Born with a severely crooked spine and warped knees, Garrincha did not seem destined for any sort of stardom, especially not in soccer. Over the years however, Garrincha developed his own style of play in concordance with Brazil’s, ignoring tactical order and instead relying upon his body movement and spontaneity to confuse defenders. Lacking the speed of Cristiano Ronaldo or the quickness of Lionel Messi, Garrincha instead relied on misdirection and deception to get past each defender. Swaying his crooked knees from left to right like a professional Samba dancer, Garrincha embodied the beauty and spontaneity of the samba and of Brazilian football.


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