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Ballon d’Or 1958: Raymond Kopa

“We just couldn’t stop Kopa, especially early on.” – Francisco Gento

“The precursor of the modern No 10. One of the first to attempt the great adventure of moving to another country.” – Michel Platini

Following several years of being pushed out onto the right wing due to the exploits of Alfredo di Stefano, the Frenchman Raymond Kopa staked his claim as the best player in the world in 1958. Kopa was a central attacking midfielder who was instrumental towards the dominance of Stade de Reims and Real Madrid in the 50s. Kopa was a free role playmaker who was quick, agile and a phenomenal dribbler.

1958 Ballon d’Or

  • ·         Raymond Kopa = Real Madrid, France – 71 Points
  • ·         Helmut Rahn = Rot-Weiss Essen, West Germany – 40 Points
  • ·         Just Fontaine = Stade de Reims, France – 23 Points
  • ·         John Charles = Juventus, Wales – 15 Points
  • ·         Kurt Hamrin = Fiorentina, Sweden – 15 Points

Raymond Kopaszewski was born into a family of Polish immigrants, he began his career aged 17, at Ligue 2 side SCO Angers. Two years later Kopa was transferred to Stade de Reims, he helped guide them towards two French championships in 1953 and 1955. Stade de Reims competed in the first ever European Cup final in 1956 where Kopa provided two assists to grant Reims a 2-0 advantage, before being pegged back by di Stefano’s Real Madrid to lose 4-3.

Kopa dominated the game, which led to Real Madrid subsequently purchasing “the Napoleon of Football” the following season, and he was joined by Hungarian forward Ferenc Puskas. Kopa won the Spanish League in 1957 and 1958, he was also the first ever Frenchman to win the European Cup when Real Madrid retained the trophy in 1957, 1958 and 1959.

The peak of his national performance was during the 1958 World Cup, when France won the Bronze medal after beating West Germany in the third place play-off. Kopa scored three goals in the tournament, versus Paraguay, Scotland and West Germany.

In the 1959-60 season, Kopa had enough of Real Madrid and returned home to France and Stade de Reims. He won two further Championnats in 1960 and 1962. Kopa’s outstanding record of 541 appearances and 123 goals is an indicator of the attacking prowess which powered him towards the 1958 Ballon d’Or award.

Kopa is not only known as a fantastic footballer, but also as an early initiator of establishing the legal framework to protect the professional footballer’s rights. He fought a tough battle against the authorities of football to establish the predecessor of today’s FIFPro together with compatriot Just Fontaine under the famous slogan ”the footballers are slaves”.

In November 1970 Kopa was awarded the Legion of Honour. (The Order is the highest decoration in France) Ensuring that Kopa’s legacy would be cemented in the history of French football.

Zak Bird.