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Born: Friday 18 August 1933, Marrakech, Morocco
Position: Centre Forward
Moroccan-born striker Just Fontaine holds one of those records within football which will probably never be broken. Having moved to France where he enjoyed a successful club career, he represented his adopted country in the 1958 World Cup and scored an astonishing 13 goals in six games, a record for a single finals tournament. He also formed an important part of the Stade de Reims team which won many major honours in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Fontaine was born in Marrakech in the then-French colony of Morocco, on 18 August 1933. Like so many players of his era, his parents tried to discourage him from pursuing a career in football ahead of academic study. A gifted all-round sportsman, he nevertheless joined local team AC Marrakech as a youth player before the family moved to Casablanca where he continued his education.
In 1950 the 17-year old Fontaine joined USM Casablanca, where he made his professional debut. From the start of his career it was clear that he was a natural goalscorer, equally comfortable shooting with either foot and with a superb awareness of what was going on around him. He won both the Moroccan championship and the North African Champions' Cup with USM in 1952, soon attracting the attention of clubs in France.
Fontaine signed for OGC Nice in the summer of 1953, where his first season was a great success. He scored 17 league goals in his first season and helped Nice to win the French Cup, beating Marseille 2-1 in the final. Part-way through the season he also earned a call-up to the national team for a World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg, where he scored a hat-trick in an 8-0 win. Despite such a fantastic start to his international career, Fontaine was not able to establish himself at that level and it would be nearly three years before his second cap.
Staying with Nice until 1956, he was a part of the team which won the league title in 1955-56 after an incredibly tight championship race although he missed a number of games with injury. Following that season, he was approached by European Cup finalists Stade de Reims who wanted him to replace their star player Raymond Kopa, who had just signed for Real Madrid. Fontaine made the move to Reims and scored 30 goals as his new team finished third in the league in 1956-57.
The 1957-58 season proved to be the finest of Fontaine's career. With 34 goals in just 26 league games, he helped Reims storm to the league title and also scored in the 3-1 cup final win over Nîmes which completed the double. Having been on the fringes of the national team over the previous couples of years, he was selected in the squad for the World Cup in Sweden following an injury to Reims team-mate René Bliard and was finally able to establish himself at international level.
His impact on the World Cup proved to be nothing short of phenomenal, despite having to borrow a pair of boots to wear in the finals. Striking up an immediate rapport with the man he had replaced at Reims, Raymond Kopa, Fontaine scored a hat-trick in France's amazing 7-3 win over Paraguay in their opening group game. He added two more against Yugoslavia in the next match, including a late equaliser which seemed to have earned a point, but when a late goal gave Yugoslavia the win France's quarter-final hopes were left in the balance.
They needed to beat Scotland to make sure of progressing and when Fontaine's goal on the stroke of half-time gave his team a 2-0 lead, they were on their way to the last eight. Despite conceding late on, France moved through to a quarter-final against Northern Ireland in which Fontaine added two more goals to take his total for the finals to eight. In the semi-final France faced Brazil, in a match which was to prove one of the most frustrating of Fontaine's career.
After falling behind in the second minute, Fontaine equalised shortly afterwards but France suffered a huge blow when captain Robert Jonquet suffered a bad injury. With no substitutes allowed they were effectively down to ten men and were beaten 5-2, being left to wonder what might have been. Fontaine still had something to play for in the Third Place Play-Off against West Germany, knowing that a hat-trick would beat Sándor Kocsis' record of 11 goals in one World Cup set four years earlier. He actually went one better than that, scoring four to take his tally to 13, a total which remains unmatched.
Fontaine's form carried over into the 1958-59 season, where despite the loss of their title he scored 10 goals in six games to shoot Reims into their second European Cup final. There they lost 2-0 to Kopa's Real Madrid, but Kopa returned to Reims that summer and immediately the understanding the two men had in the World Cup was renewed. Fontaine scored 28 league goals as Reims won another league championship, making him the leading scorer in the league for a second time.
Sadly, Fontaine and Kopa's partnership at Reims was short-lived. Fontaine suffered a badly broken leg during a game against Sochaux late in that title winning season, costing him the chance to appear for France in the inaugural European Championship. Having gone through a lengthy recovery process he suffered another break in the same leg the following year, before later undergoing surgery on his Achilles tendon.
Although Reims won another league title in 1961-62, Fontaine was able to play just a handful of matches and was forced to retire at the end of that season, a month before his 29th birthday. In all, he scored 30 goals in just 21 games for France and 164 in exactly 200 top flight games at club level. Staying involved in football, he was involved in setting up the French players' union before making a move into coaching. In 1967 he briefly took charge of the French national team, leading them in just two friendly games which ended in defeats to Romania and the Soviet Union.
After a short spell with Luchon he joined Paris St Germain, who he led to promotion to the top flight in 1974, before later spending a season with Toulouse. In 1979, Fontaine returned to the country of his birth to take charge of the Moroccan national team, leading them to the semi-finals and ultimately a third place finish at the African Nations Cup in 1980. That proved to be his last job in management and he eventually retired to Toulouse, where he still lives.
References (all accessed 16 October 2012):
- Published on Tuesday, 16 October 2012 14:17