Leonidas da Silva, Brazil’s first superstar of professional soccer, died on Jan. 24 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 90.
Credited with inventing the bicycle kick, which requires a player to flip over to kick the ball from an upside down position, the acrobatic Leonidas played 26 games with Brazil’s national team. In the 1934 World Cup, the star forward scored the only goal before the team was eliminated by Spain in the first round. He scored eight goals at the 1938 World Cup, where Brazil came in third.
Leonidas developed a “bad boy” image during his illustrious soccer career. In 1941, it was discovered that he had falsified a certificate to avoid military service. He spent eight months in prison then returned to the game. During a match against the American team, Leonidas showed his disdain for his opponents by revealing his genitalia. The game was halted for 20 minutes and police escorted him off the field.
Prior to joining the Brazil team, Leonidas played for Flamengo, Vasco Da Gama, Sao Paulo, Botafogo and Uruguay’s Penarol. “The Black Diamond” retired in 1949 and became a well-known radio commentator until Alzheimer’s disease started to affect his memory. The final 30 years of his life were spent in a rest home near Sao Paulo, completely unaware of his past athletic achievements.