Just Fontaine: his story and an unbeatable record
When we hear the name of Just Fontaine, we are immediately reminded of the incredible feat accomplished by the star player. The athlete scored no less than 13 goals in the 1958 World Cup, in which Brazil was crowned champion.
But what’s his story? His trajectory? In this article, we will try to show who was the Franco-Moroccan ace.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the North African region has suffered from several imperialist disputes. With Morocco it was no different. Its neighbor, Algeria, was already suffering from French dominance, which is why Morocco would be a great support point for France to defend Algerian territory, as well as to serve as a source of mineral exploration.
Thus, in 1911, the French invaded and conquered Morocco, as a result of the Agardir crisis, which consisted of a dispute between the French and Moroccans over territory.
In this way, many French people migrated to Morocco to occupy the region, which also happened to Fontaine’s father, Delphin Louis Martin Fontaine. His mother, Maria Dolores Ortega, was Spanish.
It was in this context that Just Fontaine was born on August 8, 1933, in Marrakech, Morocco.
Like his childhood, the beginning of his career also took place in Morocco. In 1950, the 17-year-old made his debut for USM Casablanca. There, he won the only Moroccan League title in the club’s history, as well as the North African Champions League, a tournament that encompassed the countries under French dominance at the time.
The young man’s great ability to score goals soon generated interest from French scouts who passed through the protectorate, and in 1953 his transfer to Nice came to fruition. From 1953 to 1956, when he was at the club, Just Fontaine scored 52 goals in 83 games and was crowned champion of the French League in 1956.
It was also in 1953 that the young man was called up for the first time to the French national team, due to France’s influence on Moroccan territory at the time of his birth and his father’s French nationality.
On his debut for the French national team, he scored 4 goals against Luxembourg, showing the boy’s unique ability to score goals, as well as giving a taste of what was to come.
Stade de Reims
It was at the Reims club that Fontaine reached the highest point of his career. He arrived at the team shortly after the 1956 season and with the French League title won with Nice, but he did not stop there.
At Reims, Just Fontaine remained until the end of his career, in 1962. There were 6 seasons of conquests and goals, having scored 145 in 152 games and lifting the French League championship trophy three times and the French Cup once.
Furthermore, it was in the 1958-59 season that Fontaine and Stade de Reims almost achieved what would be historic. They fought the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
The Merengues had an attacking trio formed by Kopa, Gento and Di Stéfano. No wonder, this team would be marked for all eternity for having won 5 Champions League in a row, this being against Reims, the fourth in the sequence.
The 1958 World Cup
It was at the 1958 World Cup that Just Fontaine was able to effectively show the entire planet his ability to score goals, having reached the mark of 13 goals in just one edition.
Interestingly, despite the glorious seasons that Fontaine had since his arrival in France, the starter of the qualifiers was Thadée Cisowski, but the player was injured on the eve of the competition, giving a place to the 25-year-old who made history in that tournament.
In the competition, France reached the semifinals for the first time in its history. For the group stage, they beat Paraguay by 7×3, with a hat-trick by Fontaine and Scotland by 2×0 with a goal by the star. Still, they lost to Yugoslavia by 3×2, despite Fontaine having scored both French goals that day.
The knockout came and the French-Moroccan’s appetite for goals did not diminish. He scored twice against Northern Ireland in the 4-0 victory.
However, standing in the way of the talented French team, which featured not only Fontaine but also Kopa and his Reims strike duo Piantone, was the magic Brazilian squad, captained by a lanky 17-year-old named Pelé.
Despite French efforts and one more goal for Fontaine, Brazil won the semi-final by 5-2, with a hat-trick from the greatest player of all time. The Brazilians repeated that score in the final against Sweden, and were world champions for the first time.
Until then, Fontaine had scored 9 goals in the competition, but it was against West Germany, in the dispute for third place, that the competition’s top scorer also reached an unparalleled space in history. In the 6-3 victory, Fontaine scored four goals, reaching the exciting mark of 13 goals in a single World Cup.
The third place in 1958 was the best mark of the French National Team in World Cups until 1998, when they won the tournament for the first time, also praising the importance of Fontaine and that generation.
Fontaine scored incredible 30 goals in 21 games for the national team.
Farewell to the pitch
Fontaine, according to the OGol site, had 304 games and scored 290 goals. The impressive mark of almost a goal per game could have been even higher.
His last performance took place in July 1962, becoming champion of the French League again for Reims, a team in which he won all possible titles at national level and a runner-up in the Champions League against the legendary Real Madrid of Di Stéfano.
His career was prematurely ended due to injuries, more specifically the break of two bones in his leg in 1960. From then on, Fontaine could no longer play the football of other times, as well as suffering from constant pain, bringing his career to an end with just 28 years.
Despite this, Fontaine was not financially destitute like many stars of the time. The young man took out insurance for his legs, as he was also a poster boy for Adidas.
Path as a coach
With his retirement from the pitch in 1962, the ace did not take long to feel the smell of the grass again. In 1967 he became coach of the French national team for two games.
Then he trained the Luchon.
In 1973, the former player took over as coach of the newly founded Paris Saint-Germain, where he remained until 1976.
Finally, he ended his career in 1981, after Morocco’s failed attempt to qualify for the 1982 World Cup.
From 1958, the date of the World Cup in which Fontaine shone, until 2023, the year this article was written, 16 editions of the competition were played. Before 1958, 5 World Cups were played.
In this 100-year interval since the creation of the biggest tournament in history and with 22 editions, only one man has been able to reach the mark of 13 goals in a single World Cup. Along the way, Pelé, Garrincha, Zico, Gerd Muller, Romário, Ronaldo, Klose, Messi and many others passed, but none of them were able to overcome such a feat.
Thus, Just Fontaine left us on March 1, 2023, in Toulouse, France, aged 89.
Will this historic mark ever be broken?
Written by Vitor F.L. Miller