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Top 10 French football players of all time

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France won the world cup 2 times: in 1998 and 2018, and the European title 12 times: in 1984 and 2000. It was possible because of the quality of players in their squad. Some even went on to become the greatest player of all time. So, let’s find out who are the top 10 French football players of all time. 

The French national football team is where people from different ethnicities and backgrounds are all welcomed. In the 2018 World Cup-winning team, most players had foreign roots. But that’s the beauty of it. Some top French players have given incredible gifts to football and continue to do so. Read until the end to find out all the top 10 French football players of all time.        

10. Franck Ribery (2006-present)

Franck Ribery is a Bayern Munich legend. (Image credit: Imago)

Franck Ribery is a modern-day great, and he takes up the 10th spot of our top 10 French football players of all time. Even though Ribery hasn’t tasted intentional glory, he has put up some excellent performances for France that earned him love and respect from his fellow citizens.

He has scored 16 goals in 81 appearances, but some of them are more special than the others, like the one he scored against Spain in the knockout phase of the 2006 World Cup. Contrary to his international trophy cabinet, he has won everything there is to win in club football with Bayern Munich.

He even came close to winning the Ballon d’Or in 2013 but lost to Cristiano Ronaldo in the end. But his sensational achievements are proof of why he is a living legend.              

9. Lilian Thuram (1994-2008)

Lilian Thuram won the 1998 World Cup with France. (Credit: UEFA)

We have picked Lilian Thuram for the number 9 spot of the top 10 French football players of all time. He is a hero in his home country for his impressive contributions to international football. Even though the centre-back remained busy most of the time managing his defence, he has scored two goals in his entire career, which has found his place in history books.

In the 1998 world cup, Host France was losing to Croatia when Thuram scored two times to send his country to the final, where they defeated Brazil to secure the coveted trophy. He has tasted club football success in France, Italy and Spain. He has 2 Scudetto and 1 UEFA EURO Cup in his trophy cabinet.        

8. Eric Cantona (1987-1995)

Eric Cantona’s career is full of controversies. (Picture was taken from uk.askmen.com)

Eric Cantona has taken up the 8th spot in the top 10 French football players of all time. Even though his career is full of controversies, Cantona remains a legendary figure due to his impressive achievements. A fallout with the manager Aime Jacquet cost him the chance to feature for his country in Euro ’96.

However, he still scored 20 goals in 45 appearances for his nation. After helping Leeds win the Premier League in 1992, Cantona came to Old Trafford, and the rest was history. He helped Manchester United win 4 Premier Leagues, 2 FA Cups and 5 English super Cups. His goal tally in club football stands at 126 out of 325 matches.         

7. Patrick Vieira (1997-2009)

Patrick Vieira captained the ‘invincible’ Arsenal side. (Credit: SkySports)

Patrick Vieira has taken up the 7th spot of the top 10 French football players of all time. Considered one of the top midfielders during his peak years, Viera became an Arsenal legend due to his impressive spell for the club. Even though he was unknown to the English fans when he signed for the Gunners in 1996, he became a crucial player for Arsene Wenger’s team in a few years.

He won 3 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cup titles, 5 Scudetto, and was the captain of the famous ‘invincible’ Arsenal team. Vieira was a part of France’s 1998 World Cup team, but he didn’t feature much in the tournament. Still, he has given his all in the 107 matches he played for his country.  

6. Jean-Pierre Papin (1986-1995)

Jean-Pierre Papin with his Ballon d’Or. (Photo: France Football)

The 1991 Ballon d’Or winner, Jean-Pierre Papin, has taken up the 6th spot in our top 10 French football players of all-time list. The Boulogne-sur-Mer born player became a legendary figure in club football due to his incredible strolling abilities.

Scoring 252 goals across all club competitions, Papin has tasted success in Italy, Germany and France. Even though he has scored 30 goals in 54 matches for his country, he never tasted success at the international level. He was part of a France team labelled as ‘the cursed generation’ because of their failure in major tournaments.   

5. Just Fontaine (1953-1960)

Just Fontaine was the highest scorer in the 1958 World Cup. (Picture was taken from transfermarkt.com)

Just Fontaine has secured the no. 5 spot in the top 10 French football players of all-time list. Fontaine showed his class for France in the 1958 World Cup when he scored 13 goals, a record that stands still today. He ended his career with 30 international goals and was an influential figure in French football. He secured three French championships in club-level football while playing with Stade de Reims.      

4. Thierry Henry (1997-2010)

Thierry Henry is a one time World Cup winner. (Credit: AP)

A modern-day great, Thierry Henry has taken up the 4th spot in the top 10 French football players of all-time list. The clinical centre-forward has scored a total of 51 goals for the French national team, which remains the highest until now. He also helped his nation win the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro.

Henry flourished in club football and stayed at the top for several years. He has secured 360 goals in his club career. But he spent the most crucial spell in Arsenal, helping them win 2 Premier League and 3 FA Cup. He also won the 2008/09 Champions League with FC Barcelona.         

3. Raymond Kopa (1952-1962)

Raymond Kopa was the player of the tournament in the 1958 world cup. (Image credit: PA Sport)

We have picked Raymond Kopa in the 3rd spot of the top 10 French football players of all time. Kopa became an influential figure for France in the 1958 world cup. He won the player of the tournament in that world cup after beating the likes of Pele, Garrincha and Fontaine.

He ended his career with 18 goals in 45 international appearances. Kopa has achieved some high feats with the Real Madrid team in club football, including 3 European Champion Clubs’ Cups and 2 Spanish league titles. He also won the 1958 Ballon d’Or for his impressive performances.         

2. Michel Platini (1976-1987)

Michel Platini won three Ballon d’Or titles. (Picture was taken from footballblog.co.uk)

Even though Michel Platini had a controversial spell as UEFA head, he was a sensational player during his peak years, putting him in the no.2 position of the top 10 French football players. Platini helped France secure the 1984 European Championships, the first major title for the nation. The midfielder scored nine times in that tournament. His total goal tally at the international level stands at 41 out of 72 games. He showed his class with three different clubs at the club level: Nancy, Saint-Etienne, and Juventus. He is one time European Champion Clubs’ Cup winner, two-time Italian champion and one-time French champion. The three Ballon d’Ors he won in 1983, 1984 and 1985 show his performance level.               

1. Zinedine Zidane (1994-2006)

Zinedine Zidane advancing with the ball on his feet. (Photo by Bongarts/Getty Images)

Zinedine Zidane is probably the most crucial player in France’s golden period. That’s why we have picked him for the first position of the top 10 French football players of all time. The 1998 world cup final saw Zinedine Zidane humiliating a world-class Brazilian team. He secured the title for his country that year, scoring three goals in the final.

Having a classy player like Zidane, France was a clear favourite to win the 2006 world cup. But he had to leave the field in extra time of the final against Italy after getting a red card for headbutting Marco Materazzi. France lost that match in penalties. Zidane has secured 122 goals and 130 assists in 634 appearances across all competitions in club football.

He was a part of the Real Madrid Galactico team. He helped Los Blancos win 1 Champions League by scoring a world-class volley in the final against Bayer Leverkusen. He lifted the Spanish title with Real Madrid 1 time and the Scudetto 2 times with Juventus. 

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Surajit Das

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