Just Fontaine, the all-time top scorer in a single World Cup finals with 13 goals, has died aged 89.
Fontaine achieved the record in the 1958 finals in Sweden where France reached the semi-finals for the first time in their history, losing to Pele’s Brazil.
“I am saddened to hear of the passing of Just Fontaine, as will be all those who love football and our national team,” France coach Didier Deschamps said in comments published by the French Football Federation.
“’Justo’ is and will remain a France legend.”
Fontaine also won four French league titles, one with Nice and three with the great Reims side of the post-war era.
He played in the Reims team that lost to the Real Madrid of Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Raymond Kopa in the 1959 European Cup final.
Reims paid tribute to their former star by posting a picture of him in the club’s colours during his playing career, calling him an “eternal legend”.
Nice, for whom Fontaine scored 52 goals in 83 matches, said there would be a tribute to him ahead of their Ligue 1 game against Auxerre on Friday.
Fontaine was forced to retire in 1962 at the age of just 28 after he suffered a double leg fracture.
He later moved into management, lasting just two matches in charge of France in 1967 before leading Paris Saint-Germain to promotion to the top division in 1974 and then coaching Morocco to third place at the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations.
“A monument of French football has left us,” PSG said in a statement.
“It is a sad day for all those who love Paris Saint-Germain, a club he led into the first division 50 years ago.”
Fontaine will forever be remembered for scoring 13 goals at the 1958 World Cup, 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 Pele, 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 Thadee Cisowski and his Reims teammate Rene 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 World Cup finals goals.
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 remembered fondly his “big brother”. “Raymond had character,” he said. “So did I, and that made us a magical duo.”
Born in Marrakech in August 1933 to a French father and Spanish mother at the time of the French Protectorate in Morocco, Fontaine went to school in Casablanca, and began his football career there.
- Career cut short by injury -
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 friendlies.
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 south-west of France.
Text by AFP