- Just Fontaine enjoyed an engaging chat with FIFA.com in 2014
- His exceptional prolificacy and Pele were on the menu
- Did he think his 13-goal haul will ever be broken?
Eusebio, Gerd Muller, Mario Kempes, Paolo Rossi and Ronaldo are among the goal machines who emulated Just Fontaine in seizing the adidas Golden Boot at the FIFA World Cup™. But the former France striker has something they don’t – and probably no other man will ever – have: the adidas Platinum Boot.
Fontaine was presented with the aforementioned award, for scoring the most goals at one edition of the World Cup – a staggering 13 – by the aforementioned Ronaldo in Brazil in 2014. And while there, where he travelled with his old friend Dominique Colonna, France's third-choice goalkeeper during their run to the Sweden 1958 semi-finals, he was happy to catch up with FIFA.com for a chat.
"I also made him come to Nice and Reims," Fontaine began, referring to the clubs he and Colonna had been at together. "We're like an old married couple!"
Walking on water
The Stade de Reims legend has regaled listeners with the story over a thousand times, but he never tires of looking back at his magical Scandinavian summer. Nor have his memories of the tournament dimmed over the years. "In 1958, I'd only started playing again on 15 February after a knee operation on 7 December," Fontaine said. "I did what I needed to come back and so, by the time June came around, I was walking on water. Like Jesus."
If Fontaine's physical freshness played into his prolific form, so too did his understanding with Raymond Kopa, France's other magisterial talent at the time. "We shared a room, but we kept very different hours: he went to bed late like the Spanish, whereas I got up early. On the pitch, though, we clicked right from the start. I learned quickly that I had to wait for the end of his dribbles before making my runs. We began finding each other straight away."
With Kopa pulling the strings and Fontaine in peak shape, the Marrakech-born striker slotted four goals past West Germany, hit a hat-trick against Paraguay, and struck doubles against both Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland. A stunning feat, yet Fontaine still feels pangs of regret when he recalls France's semi-final loss to Brazil. "We had Andre Lerond, a left-footer, marking Garrincha, thinking that he could block him down the wing. Some hope. Garrincha cut inside three times and set up Vava to score."
That opening blow came inside the first two minutes, and although Fontaine levelled six minutes later, calamity loomed for Les Bleus. "Three minutes after that, Robert Jonquet broke his fibula," said Justo. "He tried to stay on the pitch, but as you can imagine, with a fracture… At the time, substitutions weren't allowed, so we played with ten men. It finished 5-2, the scoreline Sweden lost by in the Final, except that we'd played with one player less." Teeth clenched, the marksman could easily have been picturing a game that had happened yesterday. "When you think about it, though, what if 'Bobby' had never broken that damned leg?" added Colonna.
Fontaine watched the showpiece from the stands, where he got another good look at the effervescent talent of the young Pele. "When you saw him play in 1958, you said to yourself straight away: this one, he's a bit special. He was just 17 and a half… wow." Clearly, the France forward picked up a trick or two as well. "I saw him pull off a majestic move in the Final: he received a pass that had been hit hard, controlled the ball by flicking it over his marker and volleyed it against the bar. I stored that away. Then, in 1960, finding myself in the same situation against Saint-Etienne, I tried it myself and the ball ended up in the top corner."
All in all, 1958 was a monumental year for Fontaine – and, with characteristic good humour, the great man has a few more statistics to round out the assessment. "That year, I scored 34 goals in 26 league games, ten goals in the cup and we won the double. Then I scored 13 World Cup goals and I got goals at the start of our European Cup campaign, finishing the competition as top scorer with ten," he said, erupting with laughter. "So, you know, what more could I have done?"
His star looked set to shine for many years hence, but, cruelly, on 20 March 1960, disaster struck. Playing against Sochaux, Fontaine suffered a double fracture in his left leg, an injury from which he never fully recovered. "I was at the other end of the pitch, in goal," said Colonna, his voice quivering as he recounted the event in his inimitable Corsican accent. "I can still hear the sound of the fracture in my head. It was terrible."
Return of the mummy
Time is the great healer, of course, and Fontaine has had over several decades had to come to terms with how his career ended. Whether that has helped or not, he has certainly adopted a wry attitude to life. Limping after struggling off his chair at the end of our interview, and with pain in both legs, the then 80-year-old joked: "Not quite the same explosive acceleration as in 1958, eh?"
Before bidding farewell, it was time to ask whether Fontaine thinks his World Cup benchmark will ever be surpassed. Typically, he answered with a joke. "One day, some Egyptologists come across an intact mummy. They observe it and notice that it's moving under the bandages. They hurry to unwrap it and set it free, and when, finally, it can speak, it says: 'Pardon me, but does Just Fontaine still have the goals record?" Making for the exit with his old pal Colonna, he then added: "I have no idea if it'll be beaten as I'm not a soothsayer. But I'm not against keeping it either."