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´Nice will forever be in my heart´ – How France legend Just Fontaine kickstarted his career on the C

Every time France play at a major tournament, the names of a number of former greats get mentioned time and time again as the country goes in search of a new hero.

There’s Zinedine Zidane, who played a key role in Les Bleus’ 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 wins. There’s Michel Platini, the hero of the 1984 European championship. And then there’s Just Fontaine, the man who scored 13 goals at the 1958 World Cup.

Fontaine was born in Marrakech, Morocco in 1933 during the French protectorate of the north-African country and would go on to become one of France’s greatest players.

Surrounded by talented team-mates such as Pancho Gonzales, Luis Carniglia and Victor Nuremberg, it was at Nice that he really showed the world what he was capable of for the first time.

A relatively small side these days, Nice used to be a force to be reckoned with in the 1950s. They won their first Ligue 1 title in 1950-51 and went on to win it again in 1952, 1956 and 1959, while also lifting the Coupe de France in ’52 and ’54.

Fontaine played a big part in the club’s successes, having found his way to the Cote d’Azur in 1953 after impressing former coach Mario Zatelli while at USM Casablanca.

“I joined Nice thanks to Mario Zatelli,” he explained to the club’s official website during their 110th birthday.

“He came to watch me while I was at Casablanca and I played a great game, scoring two goals. He immediately told my club that he wanted to sign me. I eventually joined Nice a year later.”

Fontaine did not have to wait long to enjoy success following his move to Europe, lifting the Coupe de France in his first year after seeing off rivals Marseille in the final.

“I have great memories of my time at Nice,” the ex-striker continued. “We won the Coupe de France against Marseille in my first season.”

That win remains one of the greatest triumphs in Nice’s rich history, with pictures of the team that emerged victorious that day featuring prominently on the walls of the club’s fan shop at Place Massena.

There was more to come from Nice with Fontaine in their ranks, though, as they would go on to win their third French title in his third season at the club, narrowly seeing off Lens, Monaco and Saint-Etienne.

Fontaine left Nice for Reims at the end of that campaign, having scored 51 goals for the club during his time at the Stade du Ray. He has not forgotten about his spell in the south of France, however, and recalls it with some fondness.

“I made a lot of friends at Nice. I still follow Nice closely. They have a place in my heart, just like Toulouse and Reims,” he added.

By then, Fontaine had already made his official debut for France, netting a hat-trick in a 8-0 friendly win over Luxembourg in December 1953.

His first cap was a sign of what was to come.

Justo – as he was affectionately called by the fans – would become one of the most lethal attackers France has ever seen while at Reims and he had little trouble replicating his club form at international level.

He enjoyed his finest moment at the World Cup in 1958, where he scored an impressive 13 goals in six games, including hat-tricks against Paraguay and West Germany, to help France to third place.

“I was in great form heading into the 1958 World Cup and kept it up at the tournament,” the attacker stated. “I had scored 34 goals in 26 games the season before with Reims.”

Injury cut Fontaine’s career short – with the prolific hitman forced to retire at the age of 28 – but he remains the number five in France’s all-time goalscoring charts with 30 strikes from 21 games, holding a goal-to-games ratio of 1.42.

With Olivier Giroud and Andre-Pierre Gignac currently battling it out for the number nine position, the people of France can only look back wistfully at the days of Fontaine.

The 82-year-old will forever be a France legend. And it all started in Nice.

Thu 23 Jun, 2016
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