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European football mourns Madrid great Kopa

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin paid tribute to "a true legend of European football" following the death of Real Madrid's three-time European Cup-winning playmaker Raymond Kopa at the age of 85.

Raymond Kopa lifts the European Cup with Real Madrid in 1957
Raymond Kopa lifts the European Cup with Real Madrid in 1957 ©AFP

Raymond Kopa, the French forward who featured in the first four European Champion Clubs' Cup finals – including three wins for Real Madrid – has died at the age of 85.

A renowned playmaker and prolific scorer, Kopa was a losing finalist with Stade de Reims in the inaugural edition of the competition in 1956 before transferring to Real Madrid, with whom he won the 1957, 1958 and 1959 editions of Europe's top club competition – as well as two league titles. He also helped France reach the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup in 1958, the year he won the Ballon d'Or. After retiring, he became the first footballer to be awarded France's Legion d'Honneur, in November 1970.

Raymond Kopa with the UEFA President's Award
Raymond Kopa with the UEFA President's Award©AFP

He received the 2010 UEFA President's Award for his outstanding achievements, professional excellence and exemplary personal qualities.

"Raymond Kopa was a French icon and a true legend of European football," said UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin. "He was a great playmaker and a scorer of important goals, and was a key player in the Real Madrid team that won three successive European Champion Clubs' Cups in the 1950s.

"In 2010, he was presented with the UEFA President's Award for his outstanding contribution to football, on and off the pitch.

"I would like to convey my deepest sympathy to his family, the French Football Federation, Angers SCO, Stade de Reims and Real Madrid."

Born in Noeux-les-Mines to a Polish immigrant family (the surname on his birth certificate, Kopaszewski, was shortened to help him fit in), Kopa began working down the local coal mines before being successful in national footballing trials and earning a contract with Angers – who sold him on to Reims in 1951. There he lifted two French titles and qualified for that first European Cup.

Kopa scored 18 goals in 45 games for France
Kopa scored 18 goals in 45 games for France©Getty Images

"Reims were a great team, we played wonderful attacking football, so-called champagne football, and we were popular all over France," he remembered. "When we played in Paris, we had twice as many supporters as the Paris clubs. In 1953, we beat AC Milan 3-0 in the final of the Latin Cup [a forerunner of the European Cup]. Milan had made me an offer, but I wanted to play for Real Madrid because they were the best club in the world."

His spell at the Bernabéu, from 1956–59, was everything he could have hoped for. He said: "They were three fantastic years, we won three European Cups, two Spanish league titles and only lost one game at home in the whole period – unfortunately it was the one game we were forbidden to lose, a derby against Atlético, a real shame."

Kopa returned to Reims in 1959 and hung up his boots in 1967, running a Kopa sportswear brand before retiring in 1991 and settling in Corsica.

Just Fontaine, former Reims and France team-mate
Raymond had character and so did I, so we were a magic pair. He dribbled and I scored. He was a dribbler who never passed until he was done dribbling, and I was always there when he passed it.

Noël Le Graët, French Football Federation president
This is a terrible loss for French football. His career with his clubs and the France team was amazing. Everyone will remember his unequalled achievements. He was a player and a man with unique class.

Watch: Kopa’s European Cup hat-trick