Raymond Kopa Born: October 13 1931 Country: France Position: Centre forward and inside/outside right 45 Caps (18 goals): 1952-1962 World Cup finals 1954, 1958 European Champions Cup 1957, 1958, 1959 European Player of the Year 1958 Clubs: 1949-1951 SCO Angers 1951 -1956 Stade Reims 1956-1959 Real Madrid 1959-1967 Stade Reims Raymond Kopa was born in 1931 to a family of Polish immigrants. He began his footballing life with his local team of Noeux-les-Mines but soon moved on to a greater challenge with SCO Angers, though his time there was also brief, Stade de Reims snapped up the young Kopa. At Reims Kopa began to make his mark, and within a year of joining he made his first international appearance. Kopa helped Reims to their second ever title in 1953 and they were champions again in 1955, earning them a chance to represent France in the first ever European Cup (the brainchild of Gabriele Hanot, a journalist at L’Equipe). Reims in truth had a slightly fortuitous passage to the final seeing off AGF of Demark, Vörös Lobogó of Hungary and Hibernian of Scotland en route to meet the Real Madrid of Santiago Bernebeu. Before that game Kopa’s transfer to Madrid had already been arranged, and as it was Kopa’s new team prevailed against the old 4-3, despite Reims having led 2-0 at one stage. Kopa had been an inspiration deep-lying centre forward at Reims, yet at Madrid that role was firmly occupied by Alfredo di Stefano. Kopa therefore moved to play at out-side right and he did so with great success winning 3 European Cups in 3 years in a truly stellar Madrid side. Perhaps his finest hour came at the 1958 World Cup, where he was the inspiration for a France side that somewhat unexpectedly reached the semi-finals. Kopa himself scored 3 goals, but he made countless others with his perfectly weighted passes. His was the spark that drove the France to perform so well and the French eventually went out to eventual champions Brazil, Pele scoring a hat-trick. Kopa’s star shone so brightly that he was named European player of the year for his performances with both club and country. After winning a hat-trick of European Cups Kopa returned to Reims, where he played out the remainder of his career. Kopa was a phenomenal player whether at his preferred position of centre-forward or outside right. He was a man that could make or score goals in a moment through a flash of genius or an inspired pass. Yet coupled with his exceptional talents he possessed an ability as a leader of men when needed, and also a willingness to put the team’s interest before that of himself.