Probing Myth of Pre-Pele Soccer Hero

Screen Media

The film Heleno, starring Rodrigo Santoro and set for limited release Friday, chronicles the life of one of the biggest soccer stars in Brazilian history. Heleno de Freitas was the pre-Pele idol of the soccer-mad South American country. He played for the storied Rio de Janeiro club Botafogo, scoring a staggering 209 goals in 235 appearances. If the World Cup hadn't been cancelled in 1942 and 1946 due to World War II and its aftermath, Heleno might have been a world champion.

But this is not a movie about soccer.

Heleno was as troubled off the pitch as he was magnificent on it. He chased women, did drugs and drank in excess. Dead at 39, Heleno left a legacy that became embellished in Brazil until it was hard to tell what was real and what was not.

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