Roger Piantoni obituary

Footballer who was a pivotal member of the dynamic France team at the 1958 World Cup

The footballer Roger Piantoni, who has died aged 86, was the fulcrum of the exciting France team that took third place in the Swedish World Cup of 1958. A highly accomplished ball player, an inside-left who often scored with his powerful left foot as well as fashioning chances for others, he scored 18 goals for France in 37 appearances.

In the 1958 World Cup finals he was a key component of a dynamic French outfit that was also inspired by Raymond Kopa and Just Fontaine. Piantoni scored the third goal when, in the team’s opening match, France annihilated Paraguay 7-3 in Norrköpping.

On the same ground he got the fourth French goal when Northern Ireland were beaten 4-0 in the quarter finals, and he scored a late second in the quarter final, which France lost 5-2 to Brazil after being reduced to 10 fit men by an injury to the centre-half Robert Jonquet. The only match in which Piantoni did not play was the third-place play off fixture, in which France trounced West Germany 6-3.

To go with his third place World Cup medal, Piantoni won an impressive number of honours in domestic French football with Reims, with whom he won the Ligue 1 title in 1958, 1960 and 1962 and the French Cup in 1958. With Reims he also got to a European Cup final in 1959, which was lost 2-0 to an all-conquering Real Madrid side.

Piantoni, though partly of Italian extraction, regarded himself as very much a man of Lorraine, where he was born in Etain, the son of an amateur footballer who played for the local team, La Mouriere, after being released from a German prisoner of war camp. His mother died when he was only two years old, and he was brought up in nearby Piennes by his grandparents, who had left Italy as children.

He played his first football as a boy in the Piennes town square with, among others, a fellow future France international, Thadée Cisowski. Piantoni was a prolific goal scorer in youth football, once bagging 18 goals in a single match. Asked to explain the power of his left foot, he responded that he had as little idea as a boxer asked about his knockout punch, but remembered with amusement the time when, as a small boy about to take a corner, he heard a spectator say: “Ah, look at the little chap; he’ll never make it.” He tried to work on improving his right foot, but concentrated still more on his formidable left.

Joining the Piennes club in a local league, in the 1949-50 season he scored 35 times and was leading scorer in the competition. That brought him to the attention of the top flight club Nancy, for whom he signed in 1950. Essentially an inside-left, his favourite role, he adapted himself to the inside right position at the request of one of his Nancy managers, Jacques Favre, and he felt that it helped him: “It enabled me to assess the play better, and above all to bring off better breakaways. Also to move much more quickly into position to shoot with my left foot.”

Piantoni played at Nancy for seven years before transferring to Reims. They were already one of the best teams in Europe, with players such as Jonquet and Fontaine, and were further strengthened by his addition. Piantoni played well in the 1959 European Cup final in Stuttgart at No 10, but Reims were unable to cope with Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stéfano, who scored the crucial second goal.

Piantoni left in 1964 to join Nice for two seasons before retiring from the game in 1966. His last international cap had come in 1961, in a 5-1 defeat of Finland in a World Cup qualifier at Parc des Princes, in which he scored.

Piantoni had no great ambitions to become a manager, but was happy enough to take on a job as player-coach at the minor French club Carpentras, from 1967 to 1971. In 1970 he became a member of the federal council of the French Football Federation, a post he held until 1988.

A family man and a devotee of French history and detective stories, Piantoni especially enjoyed holidays on the banks of the Loire. There, he said, he could feel in touch with his country’s past.

• Roger Piantoni, footballer, born 26 December 1931; died 26 May 2018


Brian Glanville

The GuardianTramp

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