Former Ballon d’Or winner Raymond Kopa, who won three consecutive European Cups with Real Madrid in the 1950s, has died at the age of 85.
Considered as one of France’s greatest footballers, the attacking midfielder enjoyed a decorated career which saw him win two league titles in his first spell with Reims and two Spanish league titles in a dominant three-year spell at Madrid before returning to Reims to finish his 18-year playing career when he secured a further two championships.
Kopa won the Ballon d’Or in 1958, finishing ahead of Germany’s Helmut Rahn and fellow countryman Just Fontaine after finishing third in the first two years of the award.
Noel Le Graet, the president of the French football federation said in a statement: “The passing of Raymond Kopa plunges the federation into immense sadness. It’s a terrible loss for French football. Raymond Kopa is among the legends.
“He was a symbolic player and a fore-runner. His career with his clubs, as with the France team, was exceptional.
“Everyone has and will keep in their memory his exploits which will remain unequalled. He was a player and a man of unique class. I send my most sincere condolences to his family and friends.”
Kopa played against Real for Reims in the inaugural European Cup final in 1956 and joined the Spanish giants that summer. He then played in three further finals for Los Blancos, with the last of them coming against Reims in 1959.
He returned to the French club at the end of the season and remained with them until his retirement in 1967.
Kopa was born Raymond Kopaszewski in Noeux-les-Mines in October 1931, the son of Polish immigrants who worked in the coal-mining industry in northern France.
He started his career at Ligue 2 side Angers in 1949 before moving to Reims two years later.
He became a regular in the France national team within 18 months of playing top-flight football and he went on to make 45 appearances for his country during his 10-year international career, scoring 18 goals in total.
During his first spell at Reims, he guided the club to league titles in 1953 and 1955, the second and third in their history, before leading them to the first-ever European Cup final where they lost 4-3 to Real.
His move to Madrid, where he played alongside the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, enabled him to become the first Frenchman to win the competition.
Kopa produced impressive performances during the 1958 World Cup in Sweden but his efforts were somewhat overshadowed by the record 13-goal tally of striker Just Fontaine as Les Bleus finished third after losing 5-2 to eventual winners Brazil in the semi-finals.
Kopa returned to Reims in the summer of 1959 and led them to the Ligue 1 crown during his first season before earning his fourth league title with the club two years later in 1962.
Reims suffered relegation to France’s second division in 1964, despite finishing the previous season as league runners-up, but Kopa remained loyal to the club and helped them regain their top-flight status in 1966 before finishing his career at the end of the following season.