By 90Min
February 16, 2018

Certain players can inspire a generation. For me and many others my age I'm sure, the likes of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo would be at the forefront of our collective minds as we would stroll round to the local pitches, with the iconic - slightly deflated ball - with all the leather stripped from it's surface tucked under our arms; eager to imitate the Brazilian maestros in as many ways as our ability allowed for. 

For the generation before mine, another Brazilian in the shape of the legend that is Pele would have been sure to ignite the same inspired feelings as the aforementioned did, as well as his fellow countrymen in Jairzinho, Rivellino and Carlos Alberto. However, few will be aware of the man who, in a way, kick started the flamboyancy associated with Brazilian football; Leônidas da Silva.

Leônidas - more commonly known as the 'Black Diamond' - was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1913, and after beginning his footballing career at Sao Cristóvão, it quickly became apparent that he was one of football's leading lights in South America. 

(You may also be interested in 'World Cup Countdown: 18 Weeks to Go - Are Pozzo's Italy the Greatest National Team Ever?'

Having enjoyed a fruitful spell with Peñarol in Uruguay as well as with Botafogo, Vasco Da Gama and Flamengo in his home country, Leônidas' reputation in South America was a glowing one; although his immense talents deserved wider recognition. The FIFA World Cup - introduced in 1930 - offered a platform for players like Leônidas to strut their stuff on a global stage. Four years after the tournament's birth, the elusive forward got a chance to bedazzle the world, albeit a brief one. 

Back when the format of the competition was purely a knockout one with no group phase, Leônidas travelled to Italy with the Brazilian national team where they would face Spain in their opening game; knowing that a loss would send them home with their tails tucked between their legs and with a four year wait for redemption. 

Unfortunately, they did lose. Leônidas and co. succumbed to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Spanish, and despite scoring his side's only goal, the Black Diamond will have definitely felt he had unfinished business with the World Cup. In France four years later, the iconic forward went some way to putting his demons to bed. 

(You may also be interested in 'World Cup Countdown: 18 Weeks to Go - Nazi Germany & the Reichssportfuhrer's Propaganda Failure'

The tournament that Leônidas truly carved his name into the record books began with what may still be regarded as one of the greatest World Cup encounters in history: a high scoring first round tie against Poland. 

In comparison to the previous tournament, in which the Selecao partook in warm up fixtures against Spain and Portugal to prepare for the upcoming trials and tribulations of the World Cup; the Brazilian team decided to go to France with no match preparation under their belts, and their rustiness from a defensive aspect most certainly showed against the Poles. 

Leônidas notched a scintillating first half hattrick to give his side a 3-1 lead going into the break, but for all their lack of a world class superstar, Poland were resilient, spirited, and didn't give up. Ernst Willimowski, the Polish striker on the day, responded in exemplary fashion by smashing in his own 45 minute hat trick in the second half to restore parity between the two sides. The game's biggest character, however, had the final say in extra time. 

(You may also be interested in 'World Cup Countdown: 18 Weeks to Go - When the Dutch East Indies Flew the Flag for Asia')

Leônidas, who, as well as his aforementioned nickname 'The Black Diamond' was also known as the 'Rubber Man', such was his agility and aerial acrobatics - he was in fact the creator of the world famous 'bicycle kick' technique - added to his first half treble by scoring a fourth goal in the additional period. Despite Willimowski adding his own fourth goal, Leônidas' exploits earned the Selecao a crazy 6-5 win. 

One standout moment from the second half of normal time however, apart from the unerring frequency of the ball hitting the back of the net, was when Leônidas decided to take off his boots and play bare footed, only for the Swedish referee on the day to order him to put them back on. The move, if anything, truly embraced the street football vibes on show from the 'Rubber Man' and that Brazil team back in 1938. 

In the second round, the Brazilians drew 1-1 with Czechoslovakia with Leônidas scoring his side's goal (obviously), prompting a replay between the two sides 48 hours later. Having gone a goal behind, Leônidas scored one and set up another to win the game 2-1 to propel the Brazilians into the semi final against Italy. What happened next shocked the footballing world, and left the favourites for the tournament looking foolish. 

(You may also be interested in 'World Cup Countdown: 18 Weeks to Go - Karl Rappan's 'Libero' & the Global Icons Who Evolved the Role') 

So confident they were of reaching the final, Brazil opted to leave their star man and the tournament's best player out of their lineup against the Italians. Leônidas was left to watch helplessly from the stands as his side lost out by two goals to one to the Azzurri. 

The decision is still viewed as one of the most arrogant moments in footballing history. 

The 'Black Diamond' was able to give his newfound adorning fans one last parting gift on the world stage, scoring twice against Sweden to win the third place play-off by four goals to two. 

Leônidas finished the 1938 tournament in France as the top scorer with seven goals in just four appearances. Thousands waved him and his teammates off at the airport following the conclusion of the event; although they were not to know that this would be the 'Rubber Man's' last appearance on the world stage as a result of World War II. 

(You may also be interested in 'World Cup Countdown: 18 Weeks to Go - Remembering the Infamous 'Battle of Bordeaux'

Leônidas carried on playing his football in his home country of Brazil and ended his incredible career with a stunning record of 516 goals in 574 games, coupled with nine championship titles for five different clubs. The 'Black Diamond's' exploits led to him having a chocolate bar named after him in his home country which is still in existence today. 

The world's first truly world class footballer filled with flamboyancy sadly passed away in 2004 having spent his post retirement years as a much loved radio analyst. Leônidas will forever be remembered as a man who played the game the way it should be played. Descanse em paz, Leônidas.

You May Like

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)