Brazilian footballer Joao Rodrigo Silva Santos' wife found her husband's head in a rucksack as she left their Rio de Janeiro home on Tuesday morning.
The 35-year-old's tongue and eyes had also been cut out according to police.
Mr Santos retired from the game two years ago after a career which saw him appear for several Rio teams as well as clubs in Honduras and Sweden.The murder took place in one of Rio de Janeiro's poorer areas
Since quitting football he had started his own business selling health foods and various dietary aids.
Police believe the former footballer was attacked as he left his shop on Monday night after witnesses confirmed seeing several men forcing him into a car.
Investigators are looking into whether Mr Santos was murdered by a drugs ring due to his wife's work at a nearby military police base.