Lorton: Fontaine boasts world-class record
Isaac Lorton | Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a 10-part series in which our writers debate what is the most unbreakable record in sports. Follow along with the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #UnbreakableRecord
Barry Bonds’ 762 home runs may lead the MLB in most home runs ever hit in a career, but technically there are others who have hit more in professional baseball. Sadaharu Oh amassed 868 home runs over his career in the Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball league. Brett Favre has 71,838 passing yards in the NFL, but Damon Allen of the Canadian Football League put up 72,381. UCLA may have had an 88 consecutive-game win streak, but that’s nothing compared to the Globetrotters’ 8,829 straight victories spanning 24 years from 1971-1995.
It is easy to say Pete Rose’s career hit record of 4,256 hits never will be broken when one doesn’t take into consideration that Ichiro Suzuki didn’t enter MLB until he was 27. Rose played for 24 seasons in the MLB, which means he averaged 177.3 hits per season and 1.19 hits a game. In 14 seasons, Ichiro has tallied 2,844 hits, which averages to 203.14 hits per season and 1.29 per game. This is all speculation about what if Ichiro had come into the MLB earlier, but it puts Rose’s record into perspective.
The problem with these sports records is that they are not done on the world stage. They are limited to one country and one league and do not take every other professional league or athlete in the respective sport into consideration. Imagine if Bonds, Favre or UCLA had to play against only all-star teams; they probably would not do as well.
This is why Just Fontaine’s 13-goal performance at the 1958 FIFA World Cup is the most unbreakable record of all time. Against the world’s greatest teams, in a world-inclusive tournament, displaying the best talent football (soccer) has to offer, Fontaine put up 13 goals in six games. He averaged more than two goals a game.
In his only World Cup appearance, Fontaine went off on a scoring spree for France, which eventually took third. He had three goals against Paraguay, two against Yugoslavia, one against Scotland, two against Northern Ireland, one against Brazil and four against the defending champions West Germany in the third-place match. Along with this record, Fontaine nabbed the most consecutive games with a goal (six), most games with at least two goals (four) and most hat tricks (two) in a World Cup.
France scored 23 goals in the tournament, so Fontaine’s 13 was more than half of his country’s goal production, about 57 percent. Fontaine scored more goals individually than every other team’s combined goals for the tournament, except for the champion, Brazil, which had 16 goals as a team. Second-place Sweden and fourth-place West Germany both had 12 team goals for the tournament. Fontaine was unstoppable in 1958.
Gerd Müller of Germany had 10 goals in 1970 and Ronaldo of Brazil had eight in 2002. These are the two closest players since Fontaine’s magical World Cup. Everyone in the world has had a shot at this record, and yet no one has come close.
This performance was done in Fontaine’s only World Cup appearance. Yet, he still is the fourth all-time scorer in FIFA World Cup history. Miraslov Klose of Germany is the top scorer with 16 goals, Ronaldo has 15 and Müller has 14. Klose and Ronaldo appeared in four and three World Cups, respectively, while Müller appeared in two. Fontaine accomplished in one World Cup what most can’t do in a lifetime. Pele, who often is considered the best soccer player ever and who also appeared in four World Cups, rounds out the top-five goal scorers with 12.
Unfortunately, Fontaine had to cut his career short due to recurring injury at the age of 28. The guys around him in the record books all had multiple attempts to make history; Fontaine had only one. Records like Emmett Smith’s rushing record of 18,355 rushing yards or Cy Young’s 511 wins or Jerry Rice’s 22,895 receiving yards were due to lengthy and healthy careers. If Fontaine had had more opportunities, there is no doubt he would be atop the list of FIFA World Cup goal scorers. But he had only one.
Fifty-six years and 14 World Cup competitions later, Fontaine holds the record for most goals in a single tournament. And for the world, it likely will stay that way.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.