The English Premier League's popularity and the financial muscle that it possesses ensure that it attracts some of the best footballing talents from across the globe. We've been blessed to see some exceptionally gifted players from abroad light up arguably the most competitive league in the world.
Over 200 French players have plied their trade in England's top division, at various times of their careers with varying degrees of success. Many French players would be in contention for a spot in even an all-time Premier League XI. It is needless to say that most of these players would be able to find a spot if only foreign players were being considered.
With this vast array of talent on show, picking an all-time French XI has proven to be a difficult task. Here's our team in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
All-time French XI in the Premier League:
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris
Hugo Lloris edges out former Manchester United shot-stopper Fabian Barthez in the battle of the French World Cup-winning skippers.
Barthez was a part of the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro Championship winning French sides. He won two league titles with the Red Devils at the start of the 21st century. He made 92 Premier League appearances for Manchester United.
Lloris moved to Tottenham Hotspur in 2012 from Olympique Lyon, and has made over 250 Premier League appearances for the North London club over the past 8 seasons. He has proved to be an excellent signing for Spurs, and has been one of the most reliable keepers for the best part of the previous decade. He was also handed the armband at the start of the 2015-16 season, and has been the club captain ever since.
Though the 32-year old is yet to win silverware with his club side, he led his nation to glory in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Right Back: Bacary Sagna
Signed by Arsene Wenger from Auxerre in 2007, Bacary Sagna spent 7 seasons at Arsenal before moving to Manchester City, where he spent 3 seasons. Over the seven seasons at Arsenal, Sagna grew into one of the most reliable right-backs in the league. He was part of an Arsenal defence that often seemed to lack identity, due to constant changes in the back-line.
A seven-year spell at the Emirates Stadium ended with a FA Cup triumph in his final game for the North Londoners- his only trophy at the club. He moved to Manchester City, where he won a League Cup in his second season. He left after three years at City, as manager Pep Guardiola sought to replace the tired legs of Sagna with youth and energy.
He left England without having tasted Premier League success, and with just two cup trophies to his name.
Centre Back: William Gallas
William Gallas is the only player to have played for each of London's major clubs- Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham. He spent over a decade in London and began his Premier League career at Chelsea, where he enjoyed maximum success.
Signed by Chelsea in 2001, Gallas was a part of a formidable defensive line in the Jose Mourinho-led 2005 and 2006 Premier League sides. His versatility would see him moved to the left side of the defence on occasions, and he also had the knack of scoring crucial goals.
Contract disagreements saw him move to Arsenal, as a part of an exchange deal that took Ashley Cole the other way. After four trophy-less seasons in the centre of Arsenal's defence, he made a move to North London rivals Tottenham. After a solid first season, he suffered two injury-ravaged seasons as his career reached its final stages.
The Premier League title he won at Chelsea in 2006 ended up being the final piece of silverware he would win in his career. Gallas would go on to end his Premier League career with a respectable tally of 25 goals.
Centre Back: Marcel Desailly
After trophy-laden stints at Marseille and AC Milan, the then 30-year-old Marcel Desailly arrived at Chelsea after winning the World Cup with France in 1998. Nicknamed 'The Rock' for his consistent defending, he was quickly appointed the captain of the Blues side. He formed a formidable defensive partnership with fellow French World Cup centre-back Frank Leboeuf.
He made over 150 appearances for the London club during his six-year stint at the club, before leaving in 2004 at the fag end of his career. Desailly won the FA Cup with Chelsea in 2000. He played a huge role in bringing Chelsea back into Premier League title reckoning.
Left Back: Patrice Evra
Having joined Manchester United in the winter of 2006, Patrice Evra went on to establish himself as one of the best left-backs to have played in the Premier League. He came into the club to replace compatriot Mikael Silvestre in the left-back position. Evra would go on to become one of the best transfers ever completed in the winter transfer window.
The marauding full-back would go on to make over 270 appearances for the Red Devils in 8 and a half seasons at the club, and left with a truckload of trophies. The Frenchman would also go on to win the Premier League five times and the League Cup three times.
He was also a part of the team that reached the Champions League final three times, which they won once by beating Chelsea in 2008. Evra also became the Manchester United club captain towards the latter half of his career.
Defensive Midfielder: N'Golo Kante
A few years earlier, Claude Makelele would have been a sure-shot starter in this position. Makelele revolutionised this position during his time at Chelsea, and his departure from his previous club, Real Madrid, saw the Spanish giants go through a tough period. Yet, N'Golo Kante has managed to pip the legendary Frenchman to this spot on the team.
Kante has become one of the most popular and universally loved footballers during his time in the Premier League. Signed by relegation survivors Leicester City in 2015 as a relative unknown from Ligue 1 side Caen, he played a major role in the Foxes' fairy-tale Premier League triumph.
Acting as the defensive shield for the Leicester back-line, Kante was the driving force of the team. He displayed relentless energy and stamina, as well as excellent positioning and ball-winning ability. He was named in the PFA Team of the Season for his contribution to Leicester's shock title win.
He left for Chelsea the following season in a big-money deal, where he played a similar role for the Blues. His sensational performances for the London club saw him win numerous personal accolades, including the PFA Players' Player of the Year. These displays have made him a firm fan favourite at Stamford Bridge.
His meteoric rise to become one of the best holding midfielders on the planet is not an unknown story. We all saw him play a vital role in France's 2018 World Cup triumph. His innocent smile that trends on social media makes him one of the most admired players in the world.
Midfielder: Patrick Vieira
Widely regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders to have played in the Premier League, Patrick Vieira was one of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's first signings at the club. Vieira was a part of the 1997-98 Premier League Arsenal team, and he soon began to grow into his role at the club.
Vieira was a complete box-to-box midfielder. His dominating and imposing presence made him one of the most feared players in the English top-flight. He was named the Premier League Player of the Season in the 2000-01 season, and was appointed the captain of the club in 2002. Vieira was the captain of the famed Arsenal 'Invincibles' team that went unbeaten in the 2003-04 Premier League season.
He helped the Gunners achieve a sustained period of success during his time at North London, where he lifted three Premier Leagues and three FA Cups. The last of the FA Cup wins saw him score the winning spot-kick in a penalty shoot-out against Manchester United. Sadly, this proved to be his final kick of the football for the club.
Vieira is also recognised as one of the finest leaders in the Premier League, and his consistency saw him named in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year for six consecutive seasons from 1999 to 2004.
Left Winger: Robert Pires
Signed in 2000 from Marseille, Robert Pires enjoyed a six-year stint at Arsenal. The Frenchman was regarded as one of the finest wingers in the Premier League during his stint with the Gunners. After his move to North London as a replacement for Marc Overmars, he made the left flank his own by forming a lethal partnership with Ashely Cole and Thierry Henry.
The classy left-winger, who was equally competent with both feet, was a crucial component of the great Arsene Wenger side. He was named in the PFA Team of the Year for three consecutive seasons from 2001 to 2004, and was a vital player in the 2003-04 Invincibles season. Pires scored 14 goals for three consecutive seasons, and ended his prolific Arsenal stint with 62 goals in 6 seasons.
Pires, who was a part of the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro-winning sides, won two Premier League titles and two FA Cups during his time at Highbury.
Right Winger: Nicolas Anelka
Nicolas Anelka was the ultimate journeyman. In a career spanning 20 years, Anelka played for six Premier League clubs, amongst a bunch of foreign clubs. Anelka was first brought into the Premier League by Arsene Wenger, who signed him as a 17-year old from PSG.
After a slow start to his career, a fruitful second full season at Arsenal saw Spanish giants Real Madrid come calling. After a difficult first season in the Spanish capital, he moved back to PSG.
The Frenchman spent a short-term loan spell at Liverpool, before moving to Manchester City in 2002 on a permanent deal. His three seasons at Manchester City saw him establish himself as their first-choice striker, and he scored 37 league goals.
After a stint in Tukey, he spent two seasons at Bolton. He then made his next big move to Chelsea in 2008, where went on to form a fearsome strike partnership with Didier Drogba. His four years at Stamford Bridge fetched him another 37 goals. His final stint in the Premier League was a short spell in 2013-14 with West Bromwich Albion.
Due to Anelka's constant movement from one club to another, he had his fair share of ups and downs, and failed to establish a connection with any club's supporters. However, he always was a prolific marksman, and the 125 goals he scored in the league throughout his career is a testimony to that.
Despite his nomadic career, he managed to win the Premier League title with two different clubs. Anelka also won the FA Cup three times- once with the Gunners and twice with Chelsea.
Second Striker: Eric Cantona
Adored by the Manchester United faithful and affectionately called 'King Eric', Eric Cantona has an iconic status at the club. He is also regarded as one of the players to have revolutionised the Premier League, as his entry is said to have motivated many foreign players to move to England's first division.
Beginning his Premier League career at Leeds United, he moved to Manchester United midway through the first season. The enigmatic Frenchman was one of the inspirations behind Sir Alex Ferguson's earliest title-winning sides, as helped end United's 26-year wait for a league title.
He won the Premier League title 4 times during his five-year stay at the club, with Blackburn's surprise title triumph being the only time he was denied the title.
Cantona was a hard-working forward who combined his strength and physical presence with the technical skill and audacious abilities that he was gifted with. The inspirational forward scored 64 goals in less than 150 matches for the club, and his absence due to the 'crowd kick' incident could also be considered one of the reasons they were unable to beat Blackburn in the 1994-95 title race.
Despite just five seasons in the Premier League, Cantona is considered to be one of the greatest players to have ever set foot in England. This is a testament to the everlasting impact he made on the game.
Striker: Thierry Henry
Arguably the greatest player to have ever graced the Premier League, Thierry Henry arrived at Arsenal as a relative unknown. He was already acquainted with Arsene Wenger, whom he had played under at his first club Monaco.
Wenger moulded Henry from a raw winger to one of the most feared forwards in the sport. Some of the best defenders in the world at that time have gone on to confess that facing Henry was one of their biggest challenges on the football pitch.
Blessed with blistering pace, power, and calm finishing ability, Henry was the division’s best forward across an eight-year spell at Arsenal. During over eight seasons at the club, he scored a staggering 174 goals in just 254 games in the Premier League, and a total of 226 strikes for the club across all competitions. He also managed to play over 31 games in each of his first seven seasons, a testament to the fitness levels he managed to maintain.
When he left for Barcelona in 2007, he had cemented his place in the Gunners history' as their record goalscorer and Premier League's most lethal forward. Henry was adored by the Arsenal faithful, and a statue of the Frenchman now sits outside Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.
He won two FA Cups and two Premier League titles with the Gunners, and was literally unplayable in their 2003-04 Invincibles season. His long list of individual hours includes four Premier League Golden Boots. The Frenchman was also crowned FWA Footballer of the Year three times and PFA Players' Player of the Year twice.
Manager: Arsene Wenger
The legendary manager who is synonymous with Arsenal has managed the most Premier League games. He has managed over 1200 games as the Arsenal boss, and has enjoyed massive success. The French boss is bettered only by Manchester United's legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
He made the Arsenal team from 1996 to 2006 one of the most fearsome sides in the land. Wenger was the only one who could pose a stiff challenge to the all-conquering United side under Alex Ferguson.
He won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cup titles as the boss of Arsenal. Needless to say, he remains the only manager to have guided his team to an unbeaten Premier League season.
Though his last few seasons at the club were turbulent, he ensured that his sides always played attractive, free-flowing football. Wenger was instrumental in developing many top players all through his managerial career, like Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, and Cesc Fabregas.
Published 14 May 2020, 15:53 IST