036. Leonidas

Leonidas da Silva was top scorer in the 1938 World Cup with 7 goals, including four goals in the remarkable 6-5 win over Poland. For the semifinal against Italy, manager Ademar Pimenta rested him. It was an over-confident move and the Italians won 2-1. Despite his tiny size, Leonidas, capped 24 times (24 goals), was one of the most outstanding pre-war centre-forwards and famed for his explosively powerful shot and his bicycle-kick, although he always gave credit to another Brazilian, Petronilho de Brito, and only claimed to have refined the technique.

Born in 1913, he was known as the "Black Diamond" or the "Rubber Man". He began his career with local Rio teams, before joining Peñarol of Uruguay in 1933, a year after scoring two goals on his international debut against Uruguay. Leonidas always preferred to play barefoot and hated being forced to wear boots when on international duty for Brazil.

He returned to Brazil after a year and helped Vasco Da Gama to the Rio Championship. After appearing in the 1934 World Cup, he was a key member of the Botafogo team which won the 1935 Rio title. The following year he signed for Flamengo, where he stayed until 1942. He then spent eight years at São Paolo before retiring in 1950. He returned to São Paolo as manager in 1953, before becoming a radio reporter and later the proprietor of a furniture store in São Paolo.

Leonidas died in 2004 because of complications due to Alzheimer's disease, from which he had been suffering since 1974. He is buried in the Cemiterio da Paz in São Paulo. A popular chocolate bar “The Black Diamond” created in his honour still remains on sale in Brazil seven decades after it was first introduced.

Legendary Football Players: Leonidas

Brazil's Leonidas
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