On the face of things it seems a redundant question: who is the greatest Brazilian player of all time? The vast majority will naturally reply Pele. But for those with a weakness for a rogue, who appreciate tales of outrageous talent overcoming adversity and bristle at the mention of a football 'brand', there is another option: Garrincha, the 'Little Bird' whose dribbling dazzled the world in Brazil's twin World Cup triumphs of 1958 and 1962.
Garrincha's tale is not a conventional one. Born into poverty in the Brazilian town of Pau Grande in 1933, the young child was declared a cripple by one doctor as he had a deformed spine and his left leg, standing six centimetres shorter than the right, curved outwards while the right point inwards.
But his physical impediments could not hold back this most brilliant of footballers, who soon developed a reputation as an entertainer at his club, Botafogo. Garrincha would go on to score 249 goals in 579 games for Botafogo, before brief spells with Corinthians, Colombia's Atletico Junior, Flamengo and Olaria later in his career.
Having already made a mark in Sweden in 1958, Garrincha was to reach the peak of his brilliance in Chile in 1962 with a virtuoso tournament. Brazil lost Pele to injury in their second game of the competition, paving the way for his more enigmatic colleague to demand the spotlight. Garrincha began to show a deadly touch, scoring twice in the quarterfinal against England and twice in the semifinal against Chile. Brazil triumphed 3-1 in the final against Czechoslovakia and Garrincha went on to be named player of the tournament and finish joint-top scorer.
His audacious displays prompted Chile's Mercuro newspaper to enquire in a headline, "What planet is Garrincha from?"
Garrincha would return four years later when the tournament was held in England, but by then persistent knee problems had reduced his effectiveness and inhibited his acceleration. Though he scored a superb free-kick against Bulgaria, his final appearance for his country came in a 3-1 defeat to Hungary as Brazil failed to progress from the group stage. Winning his 50th cap, Garrincha was on the losing side for the first time at international level.
His life off the pitch was a chaotic existence, both during and after his playing days. A heavy drinker, Garrincha was involved in numerous affairs, some of which drew the close attentions of the Brazilian media, and is rumoured to have fathered in excess of 14 children. His private life was also marked by tragedy: he was involved in a car crash that killed his mother-in-law. The emotional fall-out from that incident resulted in a failed suicide attempt.
Having taken little care of his finances throughout his career, Garrincha saw the trappings of success rapidly evaporate and he died after falling into an alcoholic coma in 1983, his remains being presented at the Maracana in front of thousands of grieving fans. His epitaph reads: Here rests in peace the one who was the joy of the people – Mane Garrincha.