Didi and Garrincha – A trip down memory lane with Eduardo Galeano


Waldyr Pereira, also known as Didi ( 8 October 1928 – 12 May 2001), was Brazil’s great midfielder, forward as well. He was regarded as one of the best football players of all time. He played in three FIFA World Cups (1954, 1958, and 1962).

Manuel Francisco dos Santos (28 October 1933 – 20 January 1983), nicknamed Mané Garrincha, best known as simply Garrincha, “little bird”), played as a right winger for Brazil. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, and by some, the greatest dribbler ever.

Eduardo Galeano, the late Uruguayan journalist, writer, novelist, and “global soccer’s pre-eminent man of letters”, wrote of Didi and Garrincha thus:


He was the hub of the Brazilian team. Lean body, long neck, poised statue of himself, Didi looked like an African icon standing at the centre of the field. There he was lord and master. From there he would shoot his poison arrows.

He was a master of the lond ball, a near goal that would become a real goal on the feet of Pele, Garrincha or Vava, but he also scored on his own. Shooting from afar he used to fool goalkeepers with the “dry laef”: by giving the ball his foot’s profile, she would leave the ground spinning and continue spinning on the fly, dancing about and changing direction like a dry leaf carried by the wind, until she flew between the posts precisely where the goalkeeper least expected.

Didi played unhurriedly. Pointing at the ball, he’d say: “She’s the one who runs.”

He knew she was alive.



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 that 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 ’58 world cup he was the best in his position, in the ’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 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. In the process, the opposing players would crash into each other, their legs twisting around until they would fall, seasick, to the ground. Garrincha did his rascal’s mischief at the edge of the field, long the right touchline, far from the center: raised in the shantytown suburbs, that is where he played.



He played for a club called Botafogo, which means “firelighter,” and he was the botafogo who fired up the fans crazed by fire water and all things fiery. 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.