How an Idol is Remembered

In Brazil, as seen with the other players in our group’s investigation, soccer players come to represent much more than a sport. The importance of the sport’s greatest players in Brazilian society is impossible to deny. Because these star players are such focal points of the community, representations of them are created everyday in the media and popular culture. These representations create a story: the story of how an idol is remembered.

In this section, an analysis of these portrayals of Garrincha will be provided to illustrate the difference between what truly happened, what the community imagines and what ultimately constitutes the memory of Garrincha. The two works I would like to consider depart from previously used didactic sources like articles and books. The film Garrincha – Estrela Solitária directed by Milton Alencar provides a look at Garrincha’s life on and off the field. Eduardo Galeano’s vignette Garrincha reflects the kind of reverence and adoration seen in all those Brazilians who unanimously pick Garrincha as their most beloved soccer player.

Alencar’s film attempts to represent Garrincha’s life both on and off the field by mixing real footage of Garrincha with an acted storyline paralleling the soccer player’s life. The movie shows Garrincha’s humble beginnings and his “wild child” persona. The film is typified by brilliant sequences of soccer play form Garrincha, recorded anecdotes about Garrincha’s personal and soccer life (recorded by journalist Sandro Moreyra) and a plethora of explicit sex scenes. The director chooses to represent Garrincha as a mortal who caused pain and felt pain. The film shows his neglect towards his family, daughters and wives, and abuse of alcohol. The film aims to demystify the myth of Garrincha by dichotomizing the representation of the soccer star on and off the field. The director, however, as if giving a nod to this Garrincha-like idol that has emerged in the hearts of Brazilian soccer fans, has Garrincha’s character state the following twice in the film: “my memories are not just mine… I keep my stories in your memories.”[1] Garrincha transcended his existence as a mortal human with flaws and became an immortal idol in the hearts and memories of soccer fans in Brazil.

Cover of Estrela Solitaria

Cover of Estrela Solitaria

Eduardo Galeano portrays the Garrincha fans would see on the field and turn into their hero. His playful style of writing, personifying the ball, mirrors Garrincha’s lively style of playing soccer:

When he was playing, the field became a circus ring, the ball a tame beast, the game an invitation to a party. Like a child defending his pet, Garrincha wouldn’t let go of the ball and the ball and he would perform devilish tricks that had people dying of laughter. He would jump on her, she would hop on him, she would hide, he would escape, she would chase after him.”[2]

Galeano approaches Garrincha’s personal life with a similar playful tone: “he was the one who climbed out of the training-camp window because he heard from far-off back alleys the call of a ball asking to be played with, music demanding to be danced to, a woman wanting to be kissed.”[3] Galeano writes in a way the Garrincha as idol, not mortal, would be remembered. Whereas Alencar portrayed Garrincha’s addiction to alcohol and sex as detrimental, Galeano romanticizes these addictions in a way similar to how the public would choose to forget certain parts of Garrincha’s excesses in order to create the star that is Garrincha. Galeano, however, reminds us of Garrincha the mortal also: “Garrincha died a predictable death: poor, drunk and alone.”[4]In a similar way Carlos Drummond de Andrade, a Brazilian poet, describes Garrincha: “Garrincha was a poor and small mortal who helped a whole nation to suspend sorrow. Worse, the sorrow has returned and there is no other Garrincha available. A new Garrincha is needed to feed us the dream.”[5] Both Drummond de Andrade and Galeano understand the role of Garrincha as both an immortal idol who inspired Brazilian society and a mortal human who caused pain to his loved ones and himself.


The construction of an idol requires a process of selective remembrance. It is only with this active choosing of memories that a soccer player becomes immortal. Garrincha’s play spoke to the people of Brazil. His carefree dribbling and lighthearted attitude toward playing the sport engendered passion and adoration from fans throughout Brazil. His actual voice and personal life are not commonly remembered. As José Sérgio Leite Lopes describes Garrincha’s legacy with the following: “Precisely because he was characterized by a peculiar playing style, by his love of soccer for soccer’s sake, by an apparent lack of any strategy in his professional career—things that made him seem ‘pure’ or ‘naive’—Garrincha had never made a public statement on any subject, not even soccer.”[6] In this same article, Lopes refers to the death and funeral as a kind of “modern chanson de geste.”[7] In other words, the sudden and tragic death of Garrincha became the arena in which Garrincha could be remembered as a legendary figure in Brazilian soccer history. The death established a forum to highlight his life on the field; the life that created Garrincha the idol.

Funeral Procession for Garrincha

Funeral Procession for Garrincha

With Ruy Castro’s extensive biography and the film Garrincha: Estrela Solitária, fans are offered a holistic look at every aspect of Garrincha’s life. The alcoholism, womanizing, reckless behavior and self-neglect portrayed in these works, however, are not remembered in this way by Brazil’s collective, imaginary memory of Garrincha the idol. Garrincha the idol is a soccer player who represented a love for the soccer and inspired all with his triumph over deformity and poverty. Garrincha’s reckless personal life and heartbreaking death jeopardize the memory of a country’s hero, and for this reason they are commonly left unremembered. As Ruben G. Oliven states in his treatise on soccer and society entitled Fútbol y Cultura, “the ‘soul’ of a country or of a region is a product of the way in which soccer is played.”[8] Garrincha embodied the Brazilian style of soccer and therefore came to represent the soul of the country. It was in this way that he truly became an idol.

[1] Garrincha: Estrela Solitária, dir. Milton Alencar (Brazil: Paris Filmes, 2004).

[2] Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow (New York: Verso Press, 2003), p 104.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Yanni Eduardo Torres, “Garrincha: El genio del pueblo y la gambeta,” Triunfo (Chile: 2005),

trans. from [Garrincha fue un pobre y pequeño mortal que ayudo a un pais entero a suspender las tristezas. Lo peor es que las tristezas vuelen y no hay otro Garrincha disponible. Se necesita de un Garrincha nuevo que nos alimente el sueño].

[6] José Sérgio Leite Lopes. “’The People’s Joy Vanishes: considerations on the death of a soccer player.” Journal of Latin American Anthropology. (2000) p 87.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ruben G Oliven. Fútbol y Cultura (Buenos Aires: Grupo Editorial Norma, 2001), p 24. trans. from [El ‘alma’ de un país o de una región se traduciría en el modo de jugar al futbol].

Image 1 courtesy:

Image 2 courtesy: José Sérgio Leite Lopes article

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