"They say that, in 1951, Heleno used to say he could have saved Brazil," said Jose Henrique Fonseca, director of the biographical film "Heleno", which was released in 2011.
By the time Brazil, led by the precocious talents of Pele and Garrincha, finally won the World Cup for the first time in Sweden in 1958, Heleno was hurtling towards an early grave.
"Heleno became a walking bomb ready to explode. Syphilis and drugs just amplified his self-destruction," explained Neves.
"He had a good upbringing, he was elegant, educated and from a good family. He could have enjoyed a career as a lawyer or diplomat -- instead he suffered a pathetic death in a mental institution."
Heleno died on November 8, 1959, aged just 39.
"He was a victim of his refusal to be treated for syphilis and if untreated it affects the brain," said Fonseca.
"He suffered a lot. To see a photo of him when he died is amazing, he looked 70 years old."
Could Heleno, free from disease and drug addiction, have carved out a legacy as formidable as Pele, who is widely regarded as the greatest player who has ever lived?
"Pele is one of a kind, like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and surfer Kelly Slater are," says Neves. "But Heleno would be more recognized worldwide. Maybe at the level of a Zico, Romario and Ronaldo."
For Brazil, much like the tale of the 1950 World Cup final, Heleno's story is one of what might have been.