Garrincha remembered ahead of Sweden v Brazil friendly

When asked to name the greatest Brazilian footballer of all time, most people will offer up the name of Pele, whose unique status gave him a starring role at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics.

But there are others who would argue that the accolade belongs to Garrincha, a football genius who played 50 times for his country, but whose career was blighted by drink problems.

Garrincha fact file

Garrincha
  • Born: 28 October,1933
  • Full name: Manuel Francisco dos Santos
  • Nicknamed "Garrincha" after small bird found in Brazil
  • Clubs played for: Botafogo, Corinthians, Atletico Junior (Colombia), Flamengo, Olaria
  • Brazil: 50 caps, 12 goals
  • International honours: World Cup winner 1958, 1962
  • Golden Boot joint-winner 1962 World Cup with four goals
  • Died: 20 January, 1983

Not surprisingly, one of his greatest fans is his only living son, Ulf Lindberg, born from a brief affair the footballer had during a tour of Sweden in 1959.

He never met his father but said proudly: "There is no one like Garrincha. His playing style was and will always be unique."

With his right leg pointing inwards and his left leg pointing outwards, Manuel Francisco dos Santos - Garrincha's real name - seemed more destined to end up in poverty and anonymity than in the pantheon of great footballers.

But put a ball at his feet and Garrincha, which means "the little wren", demonstrated incomparable skill and is regarded by many as the greatest dribbler of all time.

His biographer, Ruy Castro, described the man fans called "the angel with bent legs" as "the most amateur footballer professional football ever produced".

Garrincha also had a talent for charming women and it was during a tour of Sweden with the Rio team Botafogo that he had a brief affair with Ulf's mother.

She gave him up for adoption to a middle-class Swedish family when he was only nine months old.

It was only at the age of seven that his adoptive parents told him that his father was Garrincha, who had 14 children through various relationships.

But the meeting of father and son never happened. "I very much regret never having met him," Ulf admitted.

Ulf is in Stockholm this week as a special guest at the farewell friendly game between Brazil and Sweden on Wednesday at the Rasunda, the stadium where his father played in the final of the 1958 World Cup, the first of five Brazil have won.

The arena is to be knocked down and its newer replacement has already been built in the same neighbourhood.

"Until today, I often find myself thinking how it would be nice to have known my father and say how much I admire him," Ulf told BBC Brasil.

After a match in Gothenburg against the Russian team, the paper said he was an alien talent, asking: 'What planet is he from?'

Ulf Lindberg

"But it was not possible. Unfortunately, he had serious problems with alcohol. If not, he could be among us celebrating the reunion with his companions from '58."

In 1977, a Swedish newspaper reported that Garrincha wanted to meet his son.

It was agreed that it would happen in the following year, when Ulf was expected to travel to Argentina, during the 1978 World Cup, where Garrincha was due to work as a commentator.

"But the trip did not happen," Ulf said. "My father used to drink a lot and unfortunately was not well."

Garrincha died on January 20, 1983.

Ulf has been to Brazil three times and, during one trip for a TV documentary, discovered he would never know his mother either - she had died months earlier.

Garrincha had ten daughters and Ulf said meeting his sisters was an emotional event.

"At that moment, being the son of Garrincha became a reality for me," he said.

On the same trip Ulf was able to visit his father's tomb in the district of Pau Grande in Mage, Rio de Janeiro.

He also continues to try to get a greater understanding of his father in newspaper clippings, films, TV and on the internet.

"One of my favourite newspaper headlines about my father was here in Sweden," he explained. "After a match in Gothenburg against the Russian team, the paper said he was an alien talent, asking: 'What planet is he from?'".

Now aged 52, Ulf is divorced and works selling sausages in a trailer in Halmstad. He has four children: Jonas, 25, Martin, 22, and twins Hendrik and Linnea, 14.

None of them speak Portuguese, but they are passionate about football.

Martin had to overcome a serious knee injury two years ago and is now training for a local football team.

Ulf is not alone in seeing this week's match as a chance to catch up again with his father's legacy.

"Now, Garrincha is up in the sky looking at us", Pele said during a press conference in the stadium with other surviving members of the historic 1958 World Cup. "My life started here."

Ulf is already planning his next trip to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014.

"I love the sun, I love the heat, I love the kiosks along Copacabana beach," he added. "In two years' time, I will be there."