Paris (AFP) – French football legend Raymond Kopa, who won the European Cup three times with Real Madrid in the 1950s, died Friday aged 85 after a long illness, his family said.
The French Football League announced that a minute’s silence would be observed before all weekend games in honour of the man who rose from a poor mining family in northern France to become one of Europe’s greatest players.
At the pinacle of his career in the 1950s he played in a Real Madrid team alongside Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas and was honoured with three European Cup titles and the Ballon d’Or player of the year award.
Real Madrid issued a statement lamenting the loss of a “great star” and offered commiserations to his family.
“He was a player of exquisite technical gifts,” the statement said.
“The Frenchman remains one of the great stars of his epoch.”
Kopa was also central part of the French side beaten by Pele’s Brazil in a classic World Cup semi-final in 1958.
“He died at 8.15 am after his illness worsened. Raymond had been in hospital since Sunday,” his son-in-law William Boucher said.
In a statement French Presient Francois Hollande said Kopa was “one of France’s most admired sportsmen.”
Winner of the Ballon d’Or in 1958, the attacking midfielder, whose real name was Kopaszewski played football after he failed to qualify for a job down the pit.
– Traitor –
The youth could not become a miner because of an accident which led to the amputation of part of two of his fingers. He made a football name for himself as a teenager playing for French side Angers.
He moved to Reims in 1951 aged 19 and from there joined Real Madrid in 1956, and linking up with another legend, di Stefano, in one of the greatest Real teams of all time.
“I was the first French player to leave the country. A lot of people called me a traitor,” he said later. “My only fault was to be the precursor.”
With Real he won the European Cup in 1957, a year after being losing finalist in 1956 for Reims against Real. He went on to win two more European Cups in 1958 and 1959 with the Spanish giants.
Kopa guided the French national side as they reached the 1958 World Cup semi-final, losing 5-2 to a Brazilian side featuring Pele in his debut tournament.
The same year Kopa became the first French player to win the Ballon d’Or as Europe’s player of the year, after placing third in 1956 and 1957 and second in 1959.
He remains today one of only three players, along with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, to have figured four times in the Ballon d’Or’s top three.
In 1959 he returned to Reims and continued to play until 1967 when he retired.
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