French football legend Just Fontaine, the all-time top scorer in a single World Cup tournament, has died aged 89, his family said on Wednesday.
Fontaine netted 30 goals from 21 caps for France between 1953 and 1960, carrying Les Bleus to their first-ever semi-final at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.
He will forever be remembered for scoring 13 goals at that tournament, a remarkable feat that seems unlikely ever to be matched.
To this day, only three players have scored more World Cup goals than Fontaine, even though the Reims player appeared at just one tournament and played only six matches.
Lionel Messi matched his tally on Argentina’s recent run to glory in Qatar, but it took him five World Cups to get there.
That 1958 World Cup in Sweden is best remembered as the coming of age of a 17-year-old Pelé, who inspired Brazil to victory after netting a hat-trick in their 5-2 semi-final win over France.
However, it was a personal triumph for Fontaine, whose four-goal haul in the third-place play-off win over West Germany ensured he had scored in every game.
Part of a wonderful attacking trident alongside Roger Piantoni and Raymond Kopa, Fontaine might never have gone to Sweden at all.
Only injuries to Thadée Cisowski and his Reims teammate René Bliard saw him make the squad and then the starting line-up.
“It was only at the airport before leaving for Sweden that Paul Nicolas (part of the national team staff) and Albert Batteux (the France coach), who didn’t really want me, told me I would be playing as centre-forward, “Fontaine told AFP in 2013.
Only Germany’s Miroslav Klose (16), Brazil’s Ronaldo (15) and Gerd Mueller, the West German hero of the 1970s who scored 14 times, have netted more goals in total World Cup tournaments played.
Just two other players – Mueller with 10 in 1970 and Hungary’s Sandor Kocsis with 11 in 1954 – have reached double figures at a single World Cup.
Yet Kopa is remembered as the biggest French star of the era. When he died in 2017, Fontaine fondly remembered his “big brother”. “Raymond had character,” he said. “So did I, and that made us a magical duo. “
Career cut short by injury
Born in Marrakech in August 1933 to a French father and a Spanish mother at the time of the French Protectorate in Morocco, Fontaine went to school in Casablanca, and began his football career there.
In 1953 the stocky penalty-box poacher moved to France, joining Nice.
His three years there were spent combining football with military service, but Fontaine still won the French Cup in his first season and a league title in 1956.
He then moved to Reims, the great French side of the 1950s who had just been beaten by Real Madrid in the first European Cup final and that summer lost Kopa to the Spanish giants.
Fontaine won three league titles at Reims and another French Cup, and appeared in the 1959 European Cup final, when they again lost to Madrid, this time going down 2-0 in Stuttgart.
He scored 10 goals in that European campaign, but 1958 was his crowning glory – in his second season with Reims, they won a league and cup double and he was the league’s top scorer with 34 goals.
However, his career ended in 1962 aged just 28. He had hardly played for two years after suffering a double leg fracture. In all he won 21 caps for France, scoring 30 goals.
“We talk a lot about my record but I would definitely have swapped it for another five or six years, because football was my passion,” he said.
“I was at the very top, and I was earning a lot of money at the time. It was not the money you see nowadays, it was five times the minimum wage, whereas now it would be more like one hundred times that.”
Fontaine went into coaching and in 1967 took charge of France. However, he lasted just two games, both defeats in friends.
A spell with Paris Saint-Germain was more successful, as “Justo” took the side from the capital into the top flight in 1974.
His career in football ended back where it began, in Morocco, as he led the national team to third place at the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations. He then retired to Toulouse, in the southwest of France.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)