Pele Gave Us Many Things, But The Bicycle Kick Isn’t One Of Them
We all know that Pele loves nothing more than a bit of Pele. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you spent over 50 years fielding questions exclusively about yourself to an adoring audience, you’d probably think you were the world’s greatest too. It's either that or you have a massive mental breakdown in the face of the enormity of the lie that is your life.
At this point, he's just got to pick his battles. And so Pele has never shied away from saying things like his 1,000th goal was a penalty kick because God wanted the world to stop and watch his achievement, but, to his credit, there is one myth that Pele has always denied.
Because Pele scored millions of goals, is synonymous with the phrase “The Beautiful Game” and played at a time when cameras were potatoes, there’s a popular misconception that Pele invented the bicycle kick. It just makes sense, and so that myth is largely accepted and propagated by millions.
Of course it’s not true, but nobody would blame Pele for taking credit since the narrative already exists and old people in disagreement are dieing everyday. That's just the sad fact about how history works.
Nobody knows for certain who invented the bicycle kick, but Pele is quick to point out one player that certainly performed the feat before him.
When asked about the biggest myth of his career by FourFourTwo, Pele said: “That I invented the bicycle kick. In Brazil long before me there was Leonidas, who was the first to use the bicycle. When I was young, I practiced it and became good but it wasn’t rare. In Brazil, all the kids were trying it when I was young.”
Pele didn’t begin his senior career with Santos until 1956. Leonidas da Silva, the player Pele mentions, began playing with Sao Cristovao in 1929. The Rio de Janeiro native is recorded to have first attempted a bicycle kick in 1932.
At the 1938 World Cup in France, where Leonidas scored seven goals in four matches, it’s recorded that the Brazilian striker attempted one against Czechoslovakia and that it stunned all the fans and the referee, who didn't know if it was allowed within the laws of the game.
“Whether he’s on the ground or in the air, that rubber man has a diabolical gift for brining the ball under control and unleashing thunderous shots when least expected. When Leonidas scores a goal, it all feels like a dream,” said Paris Match’s Raymond Thourmagem.
Leonidas also famously scored a hat trick in a 6-5 victory over Poland at the tournament.
It was a different game back then. There were no yellow cards, just straight reds. The ’38 World Cup averaged nearly five goals per match. There was really nothing you couldn't do to the goalkeeper. There were no substitutions.
This last fact would effectively eliminate Brazil from the tournament in the semifinals. Manager Adhemar Pimenta elected to rest Leonidas against Italy, but this is never a good strategy when you’re talking about a tournament’s leading scorer.
Italy won 2-1, and Leonidas would return and score a brace in the third place match, a 4-2 victory for Brazil.