In football, rags-to-riches stories are 10-a-penny. Consider the tale of one of the world's greatest ever players, Diego Armando Maradona. He grew up in a shanty town where he shared one room with seven siblings. Sanitation facilities were rudimentary and one night, when a toddler, Maradona fell into the family cesspit after losing his way in the dark. Fortunately his Uncle Cirilo was on hand to rescue the youngster, dragging him to safety while screaming "Diegito, keep your head above the shit", a supplication that Maradona made his motto for life.
What about the great Rivaldo, who was so impoverished as a child that he lost his teeth to malnutrition, and remained dangerously thin and muscularly underdeveloped into his teens? Or another Brazilian, the three-times Fifa World Player of the Year Ronaldo, whose first chance to escape the poverty-stricken streets of Rio disappeared when he couldn't raise the bus fare to attend a trial with Flamengo. An even better player than those two, according to many, was Garrincha, whose tribulations were even worse. The Little Bird was born into poverty with an alcoholic father and several birth defects: a deformed spine, and a right leg bent inwards and two inches longer than his left one, which was turned outwards. He began working in the local factory when he was 14, started drinking around the same time, and lost his virginity to a goat. He was married (not to a goat) and a father by the time he became a professional footballer at 19. On his debut for Botafoga he scored a hat-trick. Over the following years and throughout three World Cups and 50 appearances for Brazil (during which the team lost only once) he was a phenomenon, his impudent dribbling, spellbinding control and enflamed shots scalding opponents and thrilling crowds. Four times in his career he scored direct from corners and in one famous match against Fiorentina he beat four defenders and the goalkeeper, stopped short of the line to wait for the defenders to catch up with him and beat them again before rolling the ball into the net. Not for nothing was he nicknamed Alegria do Povo (Joy of the People). Off the field his joy was riddled with agonies, largely because of his alcoholism. If he inherited that problem from his father, he inadvertently caused retribution by knocking the old man down when drunk at the wheel in 1959. Ten years later his mother-in-law was killed when he crashed into a truck. Garrincha died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 49. Perhaps it is more accurate to say his triumphs were amid adversity rather than over it.
|Garrincha and Pele|