The top 10 best French soccer players of all time

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January 6th, 2022

France has a rich history of producing some incredible talent on a soccer field, but we’ve tried to narrow it down to the very best 10 of all time, and somehow, we still didn’t have room for Paul Pogba.

Here’s why each of the 10 were selected and some staggering statistics about their careers.

10. Raymond Kopa

Chances are you won’t be old enough to remember Raymond Kopa, but he was one of the leading players of his generation in the 1950s.

An integral part of the French national team, he was also part of the legendary Real Madrid team that won three European Cups in a row.

Kopa is one of just four Frenchmen ever to win the Ballon d’Or and was regarded as one of the best playmaking midfielders in the country.

9. Just Fontaine

Fontaine was playing at the same time as Kopa and is arguably one of the most prolific forwards of all time.

His club record speaks for itself — 227 goals in 248 matches, with the majority of them coming in the six years he spent with Reims.

He won four French league titles and was only denied a European Cup medal by Kopa’s Madrid. For the French national team, Fontaine’s goalscoring record was incredible, bagging 30 goals in just 21 games.

At the 1958 World Cup, he scored 13 goals in just six matches — a record that still stands today.

8. Jean-Pierre Papin

The 1991 Ballon d’Or winner, Jean-Pierre Papin had an incredible career across Europe. He won four French league titles and a French Cup with Marseille, a Belgian Cup with Club Brugge, two Italian league titles, and a European Cup with A.C. Milan, as well as a UEFA Cup with Bayern Munich.

Wherever he played, Papin’s eye for goal made him a key part of any team, and his powerful volleys became an infamous part of his offense.

7. Eric Cantona

King Eric is a controversial name on this list, but the impact he had on the Premier League in the 1990s cannot be undervalued.

A four-time Premier League winner and two-time FA Cup winner with Manchester United, Cantona helped launch Sir Alex Ferguson’s team to new heights, while quickly establishing himself as one of the Premier League’s greatest players.

Controversy was never far away, and an eight-month ban for a kung-fu kick to a fan in 1995 cost him the captaincy of the French national side. He’d never play for them again, despite being just 29 years old.

6. Didier Deschamps

Deschamps is just one of nine Frenchmen with more than 100 international caps to his name, but that’s just the start of a legendary CV for this defensive midfielder.

He captained France to victory in the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, while also being the youngest ever captain to lift the Champions League when he did it with Marseille in 1993.

He went on to win another Champions League, along with three Serie A titles, with Juventus, and since hanging up his boots has gone into management, guiding France to the World Cup in 2018.

He’s only the third man ever to win the World Cup as player and manager.

5. Marcel Desailly

Part of the team that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 was Marcel Desailly, widely regarded as one of the greatest central defenders of all time.

In his 20-year career, he quickly built up the reputation of being a consistent, strong, tough-tackling defender with excellent leadership skills and an ability to read the game.

He won silverware with Marseille, AC Milan, and Chelsea, and was capped 116 times for the national team.

4. Thierry Henry

Arguably the greatest Premier League player of all time, Henry cost Arsenal just £11 million in 1999 — a bargain compared to today’s prices.

He scored 228 goals in all competitions for the Gunners and remains their all-time leading goalscorer, winning two Premier League titles and two FA Cups while he was at Highbury.

His four Premier League Golden Boots are a record, and he was part of the Invincible season, when Arsenal went undefeated throughout the campaign.

He would later move to Barcelona, where he won a historic treble, and he is France’s record goalscorer, with 123 goals in 51 games. A five-time French Player of the Year, Henry is an absolute G.O.A.T.

3. Lilian Thuram

The most capped player in the history of the French national team, with 142 appearances over 14 years, Thuram is not only a legend on the pitch, but an inspiration off it.

He made more than 140 appearances for Monaco, Parma, and Juventus, with another 40 at Barcelona towards the end of his career, and won a major haul of trophies, including two Serie A titles.

He was part of the French team that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, and is now a UNICEF ambassador, speaking out over issues on racism and homophobia.

2. Michel Platini

Platini’s reputation may forever be marred during his time as President of UEFA, after he was banned from involvement in football for an ethics violation in 2015. But purely on the pitch, he must be near the top of this list.

A three-time Ballon d’Or winner, “Le Roi,” as he was nicknamed, was part of the French team of the 1980s that was one of the greatest squads of all time.

He scored 41 goals in 72 games for France and won Euro 84 with the national team. At club level, he was part of the Juventus side that dominated in the early 80s and won two Serie A titles as well as a European Cup.

1. Zinedine Zidane

Zizou simply had to top this list.

One of the greatest players of all time, Zidane’s elegance on the ball, his control, technique, and pin-point accuracy earned him a place in the conversation around the all-time best on the planet.

A 1998 Ballon d’Or winner, Zidane scored twice in the 1998 World Cup Final and was Player of the Tournament when France won Euro 2000.

He was infamously sent off in the 2006 World Cup final, as France lost to Italy, but hung up his boots with 108 caps for his country.

At club level, he won two Serie A titles with Juventus and the La Liga title with Real Madrid. While at Madrid, he also won the 2001-02 Champions League, in which he scored one of the greatest final goals of all time, with an unbelievable left foot volley to decide the game.