The top 10 French soccer teams you should know about

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Jason Ence

February 18th, 2022

While some would call France’s Ligue 1 a "farmer’s league" due to the top-tier teams being so far ahead of the others, there is a rich history to the sport the French call le football. Here are the 10 most prestigious and most successful clubs in French soccer history.

10. Stade de Reims

Nickname: Les rouges et blancs (The Red and Whites)
Founded: 1931
League: Ligue 1

Promoted from Ligue 2 in 2018, Stade de Reims made a quick rise up the table and played in last season’s Europa League competition. However, they are long removed from their heyday of dominance in the 1950s and early 1960s, when they won six Ligue 1 championships and five Trophee des Champions. They also claimed two Coupe de France crowns, the nation’s top domestic cup competition.

Reims also played in two European Cup finals, falling to Real Madrid both in 1956 and 1959. However, they have not participated in Europe’s top competition since 1963. The club is most known in France for spawning the first "golden generation" of French football, with many of their players participating in their 1958 World Cup semifinal run.

9. LOSC Lille

Nickname: Les Dogues (The Mastiffs)
Founded: 1944
League: Ligue 1

LOSC Lille was created via a merger of two different clubs, one of which won the inaugural French Division 1 title. They have won four Ligue 1 titles in their history, the most recent coming last season. The title came exactly 10 years after their previous one, with the others coming in 1946 and 1954.

Known by many as LOSC, the club also has six Coupe de France titles in their trophy case, five of which came between the years of 1946 and 1955 when they were the most dominant team in France. Their only European success came in the form of the 2004 UEFA Intertoto Cup.

8. FC Nantes

Nickname: Les Canaris (The Canaries)
Founded: 1943
League: Ligue 1

Barely avoiding relegation after last season, Nantes has been in the top flight of French football for nearly a decade despite a series of highs and lows. The 1990s and 2000s saw them win a title in each decade, and also relegation within that same time frame. 2001 saw them win their last of eight Ligue 1 crowns, having won titles in every decade stretching back to the 1960s.

Winners of three Coupe de France trophies as well as a trio of Trophee des Champions crowns, they have not won anything in Europe. A far cry from their days of prominence, it might be a while before they claim another trophy 

7. AJ Auxerre

Nickname: Les diplomates (The Diplomats)
Founded: 1905
League: Ligue 2

Despite not playing in the top flight for the past 10 years, AJ Auxerre has a very rich past. One of the earliest clubs in the nation’s history, they dominated France’s Catholic league in the 1900s and 1910s. It took until 1980 to see them promoted to the top flight, but they built up a solid club, winning four Coupe de France trophies between 1994 and 2005.

Their lone Ligue 1 title came in 1996, but in 2012 their 32-year run in the league ended and they have failed to return. While they did reach the Coupe de France final in 2016, it has been a rough decade for them. There is hope, however, of a return as they currently sit in a playoff position in Ligue 2.

6. FC Girondins de Bordeaux

Nickname: Les Girondins (The Girondins)
Founded: 1881
League: Ligue 1

While they have fallen on financial hard times due to COVID-19, and currently sit dead last in the Ligue 1 table, few clubs in France have won more silverware than Bordeaux. They have six top flight titles to their name, the last coming in 2009, and have also won four Coupe de France trophies including the 2013 competition.

Bordeaux have also claimed three Trophee des Champions in their history, as well as a UEFA Intertoto Cup. While they may not be in Ligue 1 for much longer, they will be supported no matter what. More than 10% of the French population supports them, a mark topped by just three clubs.

5. AS Monaco

Nickname: Les Rouges et Blancs (The Red and Whites)
Founded: 1924
League: Ligue 1

While Monaco does not actually play in France, the tiny nation’s namesake club is allowed entry into Ligue 1 and the French football system. A football power from the 1960s through the 1990s, the club fell on hard financial times in the mid-2000s. A financial takeover by a wealthy Russian oligarch has seen them return to prominence over the past decade.

The Monegasque club lays claim to eight Ligue 1 titles, the most recent coming in 2017, and have finished second seven different times. They also have appeared in 10 Coupe de France finals, including last year’s competition, winning five trophies. While they have yet to win a European trophy, they did participate in the 2004 Champions League final.  

4. AS Saint-Etienne

Nickname: Les Verts (The Greens)
Founded: 1919
League: Ligue 1

Known by many as A.S.S.E. around the soccer world, Saint-Etienne was a dominant side in France for more than a decade, winning eight Ligue 1 crowns between 1964 and 1976. Their 10 Ligue triumphs are the most in league history. They also won all six of their Coupe de France crowns in the 1960s and 1970s.

Runners-up in the European Cup in 1976, the club was hit hard by a financial scandal in 1982 and sadly have never truly restored their glory. While they have had small moments of success since, they have typically languished in the bottom half of the table, and currently are battling to stave off relegation.

3. Olympique Lyonnais

Nickname: Les Gones (The Kids)
Founded: 1950
League: Ligue 1

Known by most simply as Lyon, the club was originally founded in 1899 but did not become a nationally established club until 1950 when they changed their name from Lyon Olympique Universitaire. Their first Ligue 1 title came in 2002, starting a run of dominance where they claimed seven consecutive top flight titles. However, they have failed to win one since.

They have won five of their eight Coupe de France final appearances, the last coming in 2012. They have reached the Champions League semifinals twice over the past 12 years, but their only European success was an Intertoto Cup win in 1997. They are the third-most supported club in France, with 11% of the population behind them.

2. Olympique de Marseille

Nickname: Les Olympiens (The Olympians)
Founded: 1899
League: Ligue 1

Bitter rivals of Lyon, the club known by most simply as Marseille are the only French outfit to ever win the Champions League (formerly known as the European Cup). They defeated AC Milan 1-0 in the 1993 final, just two seasons after finishing as runner-ups in the competition. They have also finished as runners-up three times in the Europa League competition.

Domestically, they have won 10 Ligue 1 crowns and finished runners-up 13 other times. In addition, they have made 19 appearances in the Coupe de France final, winning on 10 occasions. However, they have not won a major trophy since their last league title in 2010. With more than one-fifth of the population calling themselves fans, Marseille is by far the most popular club in France.

1. Paris Saint-Germain

Nickname: Les Parisiens (The Parisians)
Founded: 1970
League: Ligue 1

Despite being founded barely 50 years ago, following a merger of two other clubs, the club known as PSG is one of the biggest in the world—and has won more hardware than any other in France. Purchased by Qatar’s government in 2011, they are among the wealthiest clubs in all the world and now regularly dominate Ligue 1, winning seven of their nine titles in the past nine years. They are running away with it this season, leading by 13 points over Marseille.

A record-high 14 Coupe de France trophies sit in their case, including six from the past seven years, but European success continues to elude them. They finished runners-up in the Champions League in 2020, but with names like Mbappe, Neymar, and Messi leading their attack this season, they have a strong chance of finally reaching the pinnacle.