Raymond Kopa is number 22 in 90min's Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time series

​You know how Real Madrid created history with their three successive Champions League titles? Of course you do, it only happened two seasons ago.

Well, old habits die hard. In all the right ways.

The success of one of football's biggest clubs can be due to a number of varying factors, but the truth is that instrumental in cementing themselves as a titan of the game has been the players in their ranks. Some rather good ones, it must be said.

Pretty damn stupendous, in fact.


The likes of ​Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul, Francisco Gento, Hugo Sanchez, Ferenc Puskás and Alfredo Di Stefano all get rightly mentioned, but huddled in between some of those legends was a Frenchman whose genius was just as integral to the club's success. 

Unlike the forwards listed above, Raymond Kopa was the string that tied Los Blancos together during his three-year stay in the Spanish capital.

The immense goalscoring exploits of his teammates during that era often grabbed the headlines, but the platform from which they could achieve greatness was one crafted and assembled and revolutionised by the French playmaker.

He left his mark on the club in three short, but spellbindingly sweet seasons that brought with it levels of success that have since become to the norm in central Spain.

Raymond Kopa was one of a kind.


Joining the club's ranks from fellow European heavyweights at the time, Reims, Kopa was confirmed to move to Madrid in controversial fashion - agreeing a deal three weeks before Reims' European Cup final against...Real Madrid.

His time in Spain, though, would see him never lose a European Cup final again. 

The following three campaigns saw Los Blancos secure another three final victories in the competition - this time with winners' medals for Kopa - as well as two La Liga crowns.

Needless to say, it all worked out rather well.

But that would be a boring and unjust way to herald one man's genius.

Previously operating in an offensive, central role, the Frenchman as moved into an offensive right (right winger) position by José Villalonga Llorente - although he was not one to hug the touchline.

Kopa was granted freedom to roam infield, cutting inside or allowing his teammates to run beyond him, yet, he was just as comfortable with the ball at his feet anywhere on the pitch. 

Madrid had secured the European Cup the season before - as well as two of the previous three ​La Liga titles - but the manner with which they lifted their game was a direct result of Kopa's involvement. They became a sight to behold.

His style of play was graceful, he read the game beautifully, and his short 5'6 frame only worked to enhance his outstanding talent him and make him even more impossible to catch with the ball at his feet.

With such a formidable forward line, as good as it was on paper, it would not have flowed as smoothly without the engineering work of Kopa. His contributions elevating the club into previously unknown heights.

Kopa made Madrid an unstoppable force, so it was little surprise that Kopa would scoop the Ballon d'Or prize in 1958, having come in third place in the previous two years. 
This coming off the back of scoring 19 goals and assisting countless others as Madrid won back-to-back European Cups and La Liga titles, along with the Latin Cup in 1957.

No side was better than Real in Europe at this point.

His final season was to continue in the same vein, reaching the European final once more where a romantic conclusion to his Madrid career would see him face off against his former club Reims.

It was Kopa's joint-most prolific season in front of goal for the club, and he was to be a key contributor once more as Madrid overcame the French outfit 2-0 in the final.

Despite considerable efforts from the club to extend his stay at Santiago Bernabéu, Kopa's time in Spain had come to a close. His magic had been cast, his mark left, and a return to the side he'd defeated in Europe was his calling.

But not before etching his name into Madrid folklore forever. Not before garnering the silverware his ability deserved. Not before becoming the first Frenchman to win the European Cup. Not before becoming the first Frenchman to win a Ballon d'Or. Not before being the link in Madrid's star-studded attack. Not before showing the world that height is irrelevant in football. Not before dazzling Spain his with wizardry.

Not before becoming one of the greatest footballers ever to have lived.

For more from Ross Kennerley, follow him on Twitter!  

90min's 'Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time' can be found here.

Number 50: Luka Modric

Number 49: John Charles

Number 48: Hugo Sanchez

Number 47: Jairzinho

Number 46: Omar Sivori

Number 45: Paolo Rossi

Number 44: Paul Breitner

Number 43: George Weah

Number 42: Kaka

Number 41: Lev Yashin

Number 40: Gunnar Nordahl

Number 39: Kevin Keegan

Number 38: Hristo Stoichkov

Number 37: Gianluigi Buffon

Number 36: Johan Neeskens

Number 35: Xavi Hernandez

Number 34: Luis Suarez

Number 33: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

Number 32: Andres Iniesta

Number 31: Rivelino

Number 30: Bobby Moore

Number 29: Socrates

Number 28: Sandor Kocsis

Number 27: Lothar Matthaus

Number 26: Ronaldinho

Number 25: Ruud Gullit

Number 24: Bobby Charlton 

Number 23: ​Giuseppe Meazza