From Eduardo Galeano's classic, now available as an ebook. We'll have excerpts throughout the week.
One of his many brothers baptized him Garrincha, the name of an ugly, useless little bird. When he started playing soccer, doctors made the sign of the cross. They predicted this misshapen survivor of hunger and polio, dumb and lame, with the brain of an infant, a spinal column like an S, and both legs bowed to the same side, would never be an athlete.
There never was another right winger like him. In the 1958 World Cup he was the best in his position, in '62 the best player in the championship. But throughout his many years on the field, Garrincha was more: in the entire history of soccer no one made more people happy.
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 would not let go of the ball, and together the ball and he would perform devilish tricks that had people in stitches. He would jump on her, she would hop on him, she would hide, he would escape, she would chase after him. In the process, the opposing players would crash into each other, their legs twisting around until they would fall, seasick, on their behinds. Garrincha did his rascal's mischief at the edge of the field, along the right touchline, far from the center: raised in the shantytown suburbs, that's where he preferred to play. His club was Botafogo, which means "firelighter," and he was the botafogo who fired up the fans crazed by firewater and all things fiery. He was the one who would climb out of the training camp window because he heard from some far-off back alley the call of a ball asking to be played with, music demanding to be danced to, a woman wanting to be kissed.
A winner? A loser with incredible luck. And luck doesn't last. As they say in Brazil, if shit was worth anything, the poor would be born without asses.
Garrincha died a predictable death: poor, drunk, and alone.
Excerpted from Soccer in Sun and Shadow. Copyright © 1997 by Eduardo Galeano and Mark Fried, translation. Published in paperback by Nation Books, 2013. Published in ebook by Open Road Media, 2014; available wherever ebooks are sold. By permission of Susan Bergholz Literary Services, New York City and Lamy, NM. All rights reserved.