Raymond Kopa:The Napoleon of Football

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Every generation of French football has its heroes,for the younger generation that was current Real Madrid coach and former player of Juventus and Real Madrid Zinedine Zidane,if you go back to a generation earlier than that it was another former player of Juventus and current UEFA chairman Michel Platini,but if you ask much older football fans in France for them is the Napeoleon of Football Raymond Kopa. Kopa was no stranger to controversy but by far he was the first modern footballer which his influence was felt both on and off the pitch and paved the way for greats like Platini,Zidane and others.Born on the 13th of October 1931 in Noeux-les-Mines in Northern France as Raymond Kopaczewski (Kopa was the short version of his surname) in a family of Polish immigrants and just like later Platini and Zidane who were children of immigrants welcomed to France.Kopa wanted to serve the best to the country which welcomed his parents.However he struggled at school and at the age of 14 one day working as a miner he lost a finger while working in a local mine.But football offered Kopa a place of escape from a hard life as a miner,in 1949 at the age of 17 after impressing at the French national youth football trials,Kopa joined SCO Angers and besides beign there for two years and making 60 appearance where he scored 15 goals in a time when his first club was playing in Ligue 2,he attracted the attention of France’s biggest club at that time-Stade de Reims which won its first Ligue 1 title in the same year when Kopa joined Angers.Under the legendary French coach Albert Batteux,Kopa thrived as a player.He led Reims to Ligue 1 triumphs in 1953 and 1955 while having Batteux gave him free reign to his offensive abilities and during his time with Reims he scored 48 goals in 158 appearances for the club.But it was in March 1955 when Kopa would attract the attention of Europe when France played Spain in Madrid with the Les Blues defeating La Furia Roja 2-1 and the Spanish sports newspaper Marca gave him the nickname “Little Napoleon”,that match caught the eye of Spanish giants Real Madrid who wanted to see Kopa in their roster.They will get their chance to bring him to Madrid a year later.In his final season with Reims,Kopa guided the club to the final of the inaugural European Champions Cup which in the final at Parc des Princes in Paris,Real beat Reims 4-3 and besides an ankle injury Kopa played the final match and that would be his last match for Reims until he would return to the club in 1959.Kopa became the first ever French player to play abroad in neighbouring Spain for Real Madrid.In Madrid he would remain for three years where he would reach his zenith as a football player and he became the part of the original Galaticos which constisted of a line-up featuring Puskas,Di Stefano,Gento and others.In 1958 after having secured a La Liga title and another European Champions Cup,Kopa joined the Les Blues at the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden and while Jut Fontaine set a goal scoring record of 13 goals which to this day isn’t broken,Kopa was one of the pieces of France’s success at the World Cup finishing 3rd in the tournament which they matched at the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico but surpassed it when the Les Blues won the World Cup at their own soil in 1998.Kopa was named player of the tournament and helped to put France at the map of International football.That was the same year when Kopa won the Ballon d’or becoming the first French player to win the annual award for World’s best football player.However in the following years Kopa’s career would be marked by controversy,in 1959 after winning another European Champions Cup with Real Madrid,instead of signing a five year extension he returned to France at Reims where he would look after his business interests namely the Kopa brand he developed.At his second time in Reims,Kopa won two Ligue 1 titles-the one in 1962 was his last title with the club.Mostly Kopa would make news off the field when he helped the UNPF players union to achieve rights which were limited for football players at that time.However Reims was playing less and less good football and with Kopa aging the club was relegated in 1964,showing loyalty to his club,Kopa stayed and made one final moment in his career when he helped Reims to achieve promotion in 1966,a year later Kopa retired from professional football at the age of 35.Eventually Kopa settled in Corsica where he would spend the rest of his life,he died at the age of 85 exactly two months ago on the 3rd of March.Raymond Kopa would be remembered as a pioneer in French football both on and off the field and he is now in the history books of World football among other giants of the 1950s and 1960s era of football.

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