France striker Just Fontaine is dead

Fontaine – French schoolchildren associate this name with fables such as “The cricket and the ant”, but French football fans associate it with a fable record: 13 goals in a single World Cup. Eight with the right, four with the left, one with the head. That was in the fabled year of 1958, and Just Fontaine seemed to want to hoard the gates that Swedish summer like the ant his winter supplies, while the cricket preferred to have carefree fun.

At any other World Cup, Fontaine would have become a world star with this harvest. But at that time it was someone else who was just beginning and already overshadowed everything: 17-year-old Pelé. Just Fontaine was also just 24 when he set his record, which “will remain unmatched” for L’Équipe, France’s major sports newspaper. But while Pelé’s unique, almost twenty-year career only began in 1958, Just Fontaine only had two good years left before a bad foul brought it to an end. However, not that of its popularity. The fabulous Frenchman remained a favorite of his compatriots well into old age. Now he has died at the age of 89 – two months after Pelé.

Back then, Fontaine only slipped into the team after colleague René Bliard was injured. He then scored four times in all six games, in the last one for third place against Germany. Fontaine said of the only one who came close to his record in the last 65 years, Gerd Müller in 1970 with ten goals in Mexico: “I was faster, he had the better goal instinct.”

But Fontaine probably had it a little easier than Müller. In its decade, the 1950s, in a world that had survived a world war, football seemed more free of constraints than it had since. Goals fell like a conveyor belt, the hit average of the tournament in 1954 was 5.4 per game, which has not been achieved until today, in 1958 it was still 3.6.

“Family member for millions of French people”

And the heroic deeds of the teams, broadcast home with trembling radio voices and flickering black-and-white images, created myths for generations – like the “Miracle of Bern” in Germany in 1954 and the triumph of the “Selecão” in Brazil in 1958. In France, too, a lasting liaison between nation and national team developed, especially through the famous Fontaine, who according to “L’Équipe” “will forever remain a family member for millions of French people who discovered him at the time” – at that “heroic World Cup that had a tremendous cultural impact across the country”.

Until this effect was surpassed by another World Cup, the world was a completely different one and the type of goal scorer, that once most spectacular species in the football biotope, was threatened with extinction for the first time. In 1958 France had a center forward who scored 13 goals and finished third, in 1998 one who scored zero goals and became world champions. Just Fontaine felt sorry for Stéphane Guivarc’h: “I wouldn’t have scored in this team either.” Fontaine, zero goals? This thesis probably also belongs in the realm of fables.


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