French football legend Raymond Kopa dies aged 85
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.
Kopa rose from a poor mining family in northern France to become one of Europe’s greatest players ever in a Real team alongside Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas. He was a 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.
Winner of the Ballon d’Or in 1958, the attacking midfielder, whose real name was Kopaszewski.
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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