SThey called him Justo. Now he is dead. The French football icon Just Fontaine is dead. He was 89 years old – but his story is immortal. Just Fontaine became a legend by scoring 13 goals at the 1958 World Cup. At the only World Cup he ever took part in. In 1958 in Sweden, Fontaine led the French national team to third place in the World Cup – including scoring four goals in the 6-3 small final against Germany.
Just Fontaine was born in 1933 in Marrakesh, which at the time was part of the French protectorate in Morocco. The 1.74-metre-tall forward started out with US Marocaine Casablanca before moving to France, where he played for OGC Nice and Stade Reims. Fontaine was four times French champion and twice top scorer in the top flight.
He had his most successful time at the World Cup in Sweden. He was only subsequently nominated and slipped into the team due to the injury-related absence of a teammate. It should be worth it: in the first World Cup game against Paraguay, Fontaine scored three times to make it 7-3. The “Équipe Tricolore” had to fight harder against Yugoslavia, but prevailed 3:2, Fontaine scored two goals. He was also there in the final group game against Scotland, scoring a goal in the 2-1 win.
In the quarter-finals against Northern Ireland (4-0) he scored twice again – and only Brazil with the even more splendid Pelé in the semi-finals were stronger. The then 18-year-old Edson Arantes do Nascimento beamed even brighter than the 24-year-old Fontaine: the Brazilian won the duel of the scorers 3-1, the game the later world champion 5-2. Still, Just Fontaine’s 13 goals in six games will remain a mark for eternity. Only the two German strikers Miroslav Klose (16) and Gerd Müller (14) and the Brazilian Ronaldo (15) scored more World Cup goals, but played much more often.
What characterized Just Fontaine as a player was described by Albert Batteux, his national coach at the time: “Fontaine is the prototype of the average player. He’s average in everything.” There have been better dribblers and faster strikers, but none who have just the right amount of all qualities. He was also able to score his goals with the right and left.
The fame stayed with him. But his international career was far too short. Basically, he just danced through opposing defenses that summer. In 1959 he was seriously injured in a league game at Stade Reims in Sochaux and suffered a double fracture of the tibia. In 1961 he suffered another broken tibia. A knee operation and Achilles tendon pain were added. His promising career was coming to an end unfinished. France failed to qualify for the 1962 World Cup, and Fontaine played his last international match shortly thereafter. After just 21 games, in which he scored 30 goals, he retired from the national team.
After his heyday in Sweden in 1958, he turned down lucrative offers from Barcelona and Valencia, preferring to continue playing for Stade Reims. At the end of 1961 he was elected the first president of the French players’ union. The pugnacious justice fanatic was also business-savvy: after his active career, he opened a sports shop in Toulouse: “Justo-Sports”.
As a coach, Fontaine had less fortune. As French national coach, he only lasted two games, both of which were lost. After all, he rose to the first division in 1974 with the then mediocre capital city club Paris St. Germain. “A monument to French football has left us,” wrote today’s star club on Twitter: “It’s a sad day for all Paris supporters.”
As his family confirmed to the AFP news agency on Wednesday, “Justo” died this Wednesday in Toulouse at the age of 89.