By Michael Lewis
Sometime around noon or 1 p.m. ET on Sunday at Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, France’s either Hugo Lloris or Argentina’s Lionel Messi will take this 11-pound hunk of 18K gold, hold it above his head to the cheers of the crowd and then parade the trophy with his teammates around the venue.
The FIFA World Cup trophy, the most sought-after treasure in all of sport, the Holy Grail of soccer, has enjoyed a well-traveled and sometimes fascinating existence.
Actually, both of them.
The first one, the Jules Rimet trophy, was retired after the 1970 World Cup by Brazil as the South Americans became the first country to win the world cup championship three times. Since then, the World Cup trophy has become every country’s object of desire in soccer.
The Jules Rimet trophy was produced for the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay. FIFA commissioned French sculptor Abel Lafleur to create one to honor the very first world championship. Lafleur built a statuette 30 centimeters high that weighed four kilograms (almost nine pounds) as a winged goddess of victory with her arms raised supported an octagonal cup. The trophy was made out of solid gold, and at the time cost 50,000 French francs, the equivalent of around $50,000 today.
Uruguay was the first country to win the trophy. It was paraded around stadiums in South America and Europe nine times until Brazil made it its permanent home in 1970. FIFA eventually renamed the trophy the Rimet trophy after the Frenchman who made the most significant contribution to the founding of the World Cup.
But just surviving to 1970 was a miracle in itself.
During World War II, FIFA vice president Ottorino Barassi of Italy hid the trophy in a shoe box under his bed to safeguard it against the raids of the Germans who were retreating from his country.
Some 20 years later came one of the trophy’s darkest moments. On March 20, 1966, several months before the next World Cup in England, the trophy was stolen while on display at a stamp exhibition in the Central Hall of Westminster in England.
Authorities, including Scotland Yard, were baffled, fearing the trophy had been melted down. But unlikely hero emerged. Pickles, a white and black collie dog, found the trophy buried near a tree in a London garden.
The owner collected an award valued between $15,000 and $20,000. The thief, who demanded a $50,000 ransom for the cup, was given a two-year jail term. Unfortunately, Pickles did not meet a fate deserved for a hero. He strangled himself on his leash while chasing a cat in 1967. Pickles was four or five years old when he died.
In 1970, the Brazilian Football Confederation became the permanent home to the Jules Rimet trophy – until the night of Dec. 20, 1983.
That’s when thieves broke into the confederation offices and stole the gold cup. The trophy was never recovered. Authorities feared it was melted down.
Three men eventually were arrested in connection with its theft but were released the next day because of insufficient evidence.
As it turned one of those arrested, Antonio Carlos Aranha, was found dead on Dec. 30, 1989, from seven bullet wounds from a pistol. Perhaps justice eventually was served.
There is a Jules Rimet trophy in the confederation’s offices today, thanks to Kodak Brazil of Sao Paulo.
“It was terrible,” Kodak of Brazil communications director Pedro T. Natal told this writer at the time. “Everybody was sick about this. … I had a feeling in my skin the robber was not Brazilian. He has no feeling of patriotism.
“Certainly there was a tremendous loss in Brazil when the cup was stolen. We wanted to do something that would restore to the Brazilian people the most important symbol of the country’s primary sport.”
As for the new trophy, it has not been stolen. Perhaps its because there have been so many replicas of the trophy bouncing around the globe, it is difficult to figure where the actual one is.
After the original trophy was retired, FIFA held a special competition to create a new trophy in the early 1970’s. A total of 53 models were presented to trophy manufacturers of seven countries before the design of the Italian firm, Bertoni, was chosen. Milanese sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga of that company designed the new trophy, which is 18K solid gold, weighs 11 pounds and stands 14 inches and 36 centimeters) high. It cost $20,000 to produce.
The trophy’s base was banded by two rings of Malachite — green gemstone. It has been built for longevity. It has enough space for the names of 17 winning countries to be engraved upon it.
With the names of a dozen champions inscribed on the base — West Germany (1974), Argentina (1978), Italy (1982), Argentina (1986), West Germany (1990), Brazil (1994), France (1998), Brazil (2002), Italy (2006), Spain (2010), Germany (2014) and France (2018) – there is room until the 2038 World Cup.
By then, perhaps a third World Cup trophy will be commissioned.