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Raymond Kopa (1931–2017)

by Kirk Fox

Former soccer star made legendary plays with France and Real Madrid.

Raymond Kopa, a former soccer star known best for his legendary playmaking abilities with France and Real Madrid, died March 3, 2017, according to multiple news sources. He was 85.

Kopa is considered one of the greatest attacking midfielders of all time. Soccer legend Pele put Kopa on his FIFA list of the 125 greatest living players in 2004. FIFA is the international soccer governing body. 


Kopa was small in stature but quick, and he was a tremendous playmaker and goal scorer. He was known for his brilliant dribbling skills, and he is often compared to Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi.

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Kopa was born Raymond Kopaszewski Oct. 13, 1931, to Polish immigrants in France. His surname was shortened when he was in school. As a teenager, Kopa followed in his father’s footsteps and began to work in the mines of northern France. After losing a finger in an accident, he put his focus on soccer.

Kopa began his pro career at 17. He won two French championships with Reims in 1953 and 1955. He was transferred to Real Madrid in 1956. A Spanish sports newspaper gave him the nickname Little Napoleon. Kopa became a legend at Real Madrid, leading the club to three consecutive European Cup victories.

He played for France in the World Cup in 1958. He scored three goals and led France to the semifinals, where they lost to a great Brazilian team. He retired from pro soccer after the 1967 season with 123 goals during his career.

In 1970, Kopa became the first soccer player to receive the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest decoration. After leaving the game, he launched his own successful Kopa sportswear brand.

He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

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