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5 Greatest French footballers of all time

Some of football's greatest ever players come from France
Some of football's greatest ever players come from France

France, the reigning World Champions, are one of the strongest footballing nations in the world. They have won the World Cup twice and they have also been crowned the European champions twice. Moreover, they have finished runners-up in the World Cups twice.

France have successfully combined European strength with Latin American flair in their playing style. They usually play a very attractive brand of football, which is mellifluous and soothing to watch. Quite naturally, they have produced some excellent players over the decades, and it is not an easy task to choose the top 5 French footballers of all time.

Still, we have tried to come up with a list of top 5 French footballers of all time. Let us have a look at the list:

#5. Marcel Desailly:

Marcel Desailly
Marcel Desailly

Desailly is one of the greatest defenders in the history of football. He was very tough and a fierce competitor. He was also strong as an ox, and never shied away from a challenge. He was also very strong in the air. Desailly started his professional career with Nantes in 1986. He also won the UEFA Champions League with the French club Marseille in 1992-93.

Desailly joined AC Milan the very next season, and played for the Italian giants till 1998. He again won the UEFA Champions League with Milan, as the Rossoneri defeated Barcelona 4-0 in the final. He was part of a great Milan midfield comprising of the likes of Roberto Donadoni, Ruud Gullit, Zvonimir Boban and Dejan Savicevic. Desailly won the Serie A twice with Milan .

He then moved to London-based club Chelsea, and played for the Blues till 2004. He could not win the Premier League title, but won the FA Cup with Chelsea . Desailly scored 21 goals in 540 matches in his club career.

However, the pinnacle of his career came in the 1998 World Cup, when France hosted and won the tournament. Desailly was one of the standout performers in that World Cup, and remained the mainstay of the French defense along with Laurent Blanc.

Desailly and Blanc again held firm as France lifted the European Championship in 2000. Desailly retired from international football in 2004, having scored 3 goals in 116 appearances for the Les Bleus.

#4. Lilian Thuram:

Lilian Thuram
Lilian Thuram

Thuram was one of the premier defenders in the world during the late 1990s and early 2000s. He could play both as a centre-back and a right-back, and remains a legend for Italian clubs Parma and Juventus.

Thuram did not have great distribution skills, but was a stopper of the highest order. He struggled at times while going into overlaps as the right-back, but remained a colossus in defense. His brilliant anticipation skills and clean tackling combined to make him an outstanding defender. Thuram started his career with French club AS Monaco, and joined Parma in 1996. He played for the Italian club till 2001 before joining Juve.

Thuram remained one of the most important players in a very strong Juve team under Marcelo Lippi, and played alongside the likes of Paolo Montero and Ciro Ferrara. He won the Serie A twice with Juve, and also a runner-up medal in the Champions League in 2002-03.

Thuram moved to Barcelona in 2006, and spent a few seasons there. He finished with 11 goals in 670 matches in his club career. However, his finest hour as a footballer came in the 1998 World Cup, when he scored a brace against Croatia in the semifinal to win the match for France. He was an intrinsic part of the French team that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. He played as the right-back in both of those tournaments.

Thuram was a central defender in the French team of 2006 World Cup, and finished runner-up in that tournament. He hung up his boots in 2008, having scored 2 goals in 142 international appearances.

#3. Thierry Henry:

Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry

Henry was Premier League’s most consistent player for almost a decade, and remains the greatest player to have ever played for Arsenal. Henry was signed by Arsene Wenger in 1998, and became an all-conquering player for the Gunners during his decade-long stint with the club.

Henry was a brilliant dribbler, and liked to cut in form the left wing to the opposition penalty box. He could play both as the main striker and the second striker. He also had a very good shot on him, and could score through heads and volleys as well. He won 3 Premier League titles with Arsenal, and the Onze d’Or in 2003 and 2006.

He scored 228 goals in 375 matches for the Gunners and was selected in Premier League’s team of the century in 2007. Then he joined Barcelona in 2007 and spent 3 seasons with them. He won the Champions League with Barca in 2009 and also a couple of LaLiga titles. He finished with 360 goals in 790 matches in his club career.

Henry was, however, not as successful for the national team as he was for the Gunners. Still, he won the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championship in 2000 with the French national team. He also finished runner-up in the 2006 World Cup. He remains the highest goal-scorer for France in international football with 51 goals in 123 matches.

#2. Zinedine Zidane:

Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane

Very few footballers in the history of the game can actually match Zidane in terms of consistency, elegance, big-match temperament and overall success. Zidane was a stalwart, who played with great success for various clubs as well as his national team.

Zidane rose to prominence while playing for French club Bordeaux, and joined Italian giants Juventus in 1996. He evolved as a player under Marcelo Lippi, and spent 5 successful seasons with Juve. He won two Serie A titles and two runners-up medal in Champions League with Juve. Zidane then signed for Real Madrid in 2001, and won one LaLiga and one Champions League title for them.

Zidane was a big-match player, and scored a brace in the 1998 World Cup final against Brazil. He also scored with an astonishing volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2001-02 Champions League final to win the title for Real. Zidane again scored through a penalty in the final of the 2006 World Cup. However, he was sent off in that match, as Italy beat France in penalties to win the title.

Zidane almost single-handedly destroyed teams like Brazil, Portugal, England and Spain in various major tournaments while playing for France. He had silken touch and graceful movement, but also possessed a warrior’s heart and a champion’s mentality. He scored 125 goals in 684 matches in his club career and 31 more in 108 matches for France. He also won the Ballon d’Or in 1998.

#1. Michel Platini:

Michel Platini
Michel Platini

Platini is the greatest footballer France has ever produced, and also remains one of the finest no. 10s of all time. He epitomized elegance and excellence on a football pitch, and also won several accolades in his career.

Platini was a legend for Italian club Juventus, and won 3 consecutive Ballon d’Ors while playing for them. He also won the European Cup in 1985 and two Serie A titles with Juve. He also played for Saint-Etienne and Nancy, and finished with 209 goals in 358 matches in his club career.

Platini was France’s captain for quite a while, and made them one of the strongest footballing nations in the 1980s. He scored 9 goals in 5 matches to win the European Championship for France in 1984. He also took them to two consecutive semifinal appearances in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. However, France lost to West Germany on both the occasions.

Platini was a delight to watch, as he had great dribbling, passing and shooting skills. He also had a knack of scoring goals and creating goal-scoring moves. He scored 41 goals in 72 matches for the French National team, and remains the finest footballer to have played for Les Bleus.

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Edited by Emeka Monyei
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