KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —– Hilderaldo Luiz Bellini, captain of Brazil’s first World Cup-winners and creator of the most iconic image in the country’s history, has died at 83.
Bellini, captain of the 1958 world champions in Sweden, had been suffering from Alzheimer’s. He had been admitted to hospital in Sao Paulo earlier for the second time in a year.
Born on June 7, 1930, at Itapira in Sao Paulo state, Bellini was the 11th of 12 children of an immigrant Italian truck driver.
He began as a fullback with local clubs Itapirense and Sanjoanense then turned professional with Rio’s Vasco da Gama. Tall and slim, he was converted into a central defender by coach Flavio Costa who told him: “You can’t play very well so just concentrate on getting the ball and giving it to someone who can.”
After nine years with Vasco Bellini returned home with Sao Paulo in 1962 then had one season back with Vasco before winding down his playing career with Atletico Paranaense. Later he ran a children’s football academy.
Bellini played 51 times for Brazil between 1957 and 1966. The pinnacle of his international career came early, in 1958, when he captained the World Cup-winning side in Sweden.
Story of the statue
After Brazil’s 5-2 victory – with two goals from 17-year-old Pele- Bellini was exhorted by the Brazilian photographers to hold the Jules Rimet trophy where they could record a ‘clean’ picture.
Bellini duly raised the trophy high above his head in a pose which has been imitated by all his cup-winning successors and has been recorded in the statute outside the main entrance to Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium.
In fact, though Bellini posed twice for sculptor Matheus Fernandes and the face does not resemble his, the statute is generally referred to as ‘the Bellini statue.’ Officially the statute, unveiled in November 1960, hails the achievement of the entire 1958 World Cup-winning team.
Four years later, in Chile, Bellini was replaced as centre back and captain of Brazil by Mauro of Santos though he remained a member of the World Cup-winning squad.
He was there again in England in 1966 but by now Bellini – like too many of his colleagues – was too old for the challenge and past his best. He never played for Brazil again.