Football fans of new generation are mostly divided between Messi and Ronaldo. Some are still in awe of the magical Ronaldinho. They also know about the former greats like Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Zidane etc. They have seen videos of wizards like Maradona, Romario, or Roberto Baggio. They are even well aware of soccer sorcerers like Pele, Garrincha, or Beckenbauer. But very few of them know about Leonidas da Silva.
Considered by many as the first super star of the World Cup, Leonidas of Brazil filled the 1934 and 1938 editions with joy and enthralled Brazilian and South American football fans during his time. His 100th brithday was remembered and honored through a secial Google Doodle on 6th September, 2013.
The Bicycle Man
Leonidas was one of the few players who were considered to be the pioneers of the bicycle kick. However, there’s no doubt that he was the greatest exponent of this amazing discovery of football. Watching his spectacular show of skill aganist Czechoslovakia in 1938 World Cup, the Paris Match commented “Whether he’s on the ground or in the air, that rubber man has a diabolical gift for bringing the ball under control and unleashing thunderous shots when least expected.” Yes, Rubber Man and Black Diamond are two of the many nicknames that he earned showing his acrobatic excellence and extraordinary technique.
World Cup Achievements
Leonidas played in two World Cups, a total of five matches, and scored eight goals. Brazil, playing with a very weak team in 1934 World Cup in Italy, was ousted in the first match, losing to Spain. However, Leonidas scored the only goal for his team (1-3). The world really took notice of this Brazilian at the 1938 edition held in France.
He scored in every game he featured, including a marvelous hat-trick against Poland (6-5). The game is considered as one of the most exciting in the World Cup history. Unfortunately, he was rested for the semi-finals and Brazil lost 2-1 against the defending champions Italy. He came back in the 3rd place match against Sweden and scored a brace in the 4-2 victory. It was Brazil’s best ever performance till then.
All Terrain Favourite
Leonidas played for various clubs including the famous ones like Vasco da Gama, Botafogo, Flamengo, and Sao Paolo. He went to Uruguay to play for the renowned side – Penarol. No matter where he was and at what age, he became an instant hero at the clubs he played. Any discussion on Leonidas in Brazil would invariably bring out Falmengo and Sao Paolo fans claiming him to be their own.
He was an idol for the Cariocas (residents of Rio de Jeniero) when he was at Vasco, Botafogo, or Flamengo. Sao Paolo signed him for a record transfer fee at that time and he became an instant hit with the Paulistas (residents of Sao Paolo) as well. Few players in the history of football achieved this adulation in every manifesto of the game. He was equally brilliant for the Seleção and for the club teams.
Leonidas retired at Sao Paolo and then spent a stint as a manager. Football remained a part of this extra-ordinary sportsman and in no time, he became popular as a radio commentator, enchanting football lovers with his commentary and knowledge of the game. His death on 24th January, 2004 ended a great chapter in footballing history.
Very few videos or photos of this sporting great are available today. But there’s no doubt that this man enriched the history of the greatest game on earth.Published 14 May 2014, 03:20 IST