Ranking 5 greatest French signings in Manchester United history

Mikael Silvestre and Paul Pogba
Mikael Silvestre and Paul Pogba
Sambuddha Sengupta

Manchester United have had a rich history with French signings. From the days of Eric Cantona to those of Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial of late - the country has given the English club so many talented stars.

Time and again managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have looked at signing French-born players to solve their problems and why not? The country boasts of winning two FIFA World Cups, two UEFA European Championships and two FIFA Confederations Cups. And those tournaments have brought to the fore some of the brightest stars, making the choice easier for Manchester United managers when it comes to new signings.

Manchester United's great and not-so-great French signings

But not all those signings have found success at Old Trafford. The likes of Laurent Blanc, despite being regarded as one of the greatest French players, was not one of Sir Alex Ferguson's more successful signings.

It also came as a surprise to many when the legendary manager made William Prunier one of his loan signings from Bordeaux back in 1995.

However, the general pattern has been a positive one. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest French players, Eric Cantona, gave the number 7 shirt a new meaning following his arrival from Leeds United in 1992.

And who can forget the fiery stint of Fabian Barthez? Despite his spell not lasting for more than four years, he remains one of the biggest French signings for Manchester United.

Manchester United are now ushering in a new era with the signing of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid. Though the defender is yet to be unveiled, the excitement among fans is noteworthy. Along with Jadon Sancho, Varane is one of the most high-profile signings of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era and the latest Frenchman expected to ply his trade at Old Trafford.

Ahead of Varane's baptism in Manchester, we profile five of his fellow countrymen to have had the greatest impact at Manchester United in the past.

#5 Mikael Silvestre

Manchester United Training & Press Conference
Manchester United Training & Press Conference

Mikael Silvestre decided to make the switch from Italy to England back in 1999 for a fee in the region of Β£4m. The Frenchman had an offer from Liverpool as well but decided to opt for the Red Devils.

He was the most high-profile of the five signings Manchester United had made that summer. Ferguson had a preference for players who could perform multiple roles on the pitch and Silvestre fitted the bill.

The defender was used both as a centre-back as well as a full-back by his manager. As a full-back Silvestre had the chance to show his attacking skills.

Following the departure of Jaap Stam in 2001 Silvestre became the leader of the pack and stayed that way until the signings of Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra in January 2006.

Meanwhile, Silvestre's issues with injuries had dented his sharpness and he no longer found himself at the top of Sir Alex Ferguson's pecking order, eventually deciding to bid adieu to Old Trafford in 2008.

Arsene Wenger still had faith in the Frenchman's abilities and made him one of his utility signings. Silvestre notched up 361 appearances in all competitions for Manchester United and also had stints in the MLS and Indian Super League after leaving Arsenal.

#4 Louis Saha

Manchester United '99 Legends v FC Bayern Legends
Manchester United '99 Legends v FC Bayern Legends

Louis Saha was on a goal scoring spree for Fulham when Sir Alex Ferguson spotted him. The season before joining Manchester United, the Frenchman had scored a resounding 22 goals in 35 appearances in a Fulham shirt.

Manchester United at the time had become over-relient on just one striker - Ruud van Nistelrooy. Ferguson felt the need to find someone who could give him goals day-in, day-out.

Diego Forlan's move from Independiente had failed miserably as the young Uruguayan failed to suit himself to the demanding nature of the Premier League.

From that aspect, Saha suited well having already proven himself as a goal getter in the division. Ferguson, though, preferred to use Saha as a back-up and most of his appearances during the first season came off the bench.

Manchester United fans only started to see sparks of Saha's brilliance in his second season as he found himself involved in as many as 22 goals in 30 appearances.

Following the departure of Van Nistelrooy, Saha started to take centre-stage but that was when his issues with injury began to crop up. The following season was his worst as he could manage only 17 league appearances and Ferguson was forced to let him go.

Saha joined Everton in 2008 and proved his mettel there as well, scoring as many as 34 goals over the next four seasons.

The pressure of performing at the highest level at a club like Manchester United might have taken a toll on his slender figure but Saha remains one of the best French signings for Manchester United.

#3 Paul Pogba

Villarreal CF v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League Final
Villarreal CF v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League Final

Manchester United's current number 6 is undoubtedly one of the greatest French signings. Paul Pogba is a product of Manchester United's academy but left the club to join Juventus after failing to break into the first team.

His heroics at Juventus convinced Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson's successor, that Pogba was the perfect choice for the Manchester United midfield. The Red Devils spent a then-record Β£89m to make Pogba their most expensive signing.

Some might believe that Pogba is yet to reach his full potential at Old Trafford. This has probably been due to the fact that he has been used in different positions by different managers and never got the chance to settle into a certain role.

Solskjaer's predecessor Jose Mourinho, despite the huge onus he had put on making Pogba one of his key signings, sometimes used him as a defensive midfielder and sometimes even on the flanks. It dealt a serious blow to the creative nature of Pogba's game.

Even then, fans were left spellbound by his visionary passes and aerial balls, often going on to find the right attacking target.

Under Solskjaer, though, Pogba has found his footing at Old Trafford and together with Bruno Fernandes he is creating problems for opposition defenders.

Standing 6’2” tall, Pogba is a physical presence in the middle of the pitch, drawing likeness with countryman Patrick Vieira. However, he betters Vieira in terms of his attacking acumen. The 42 goals he has set up for his team-mates so far show how good he is at creating opportunities for others.

He is a good dribbler and has decent pace to go around defenders. What adds to his skills is his long-range shooting ability.

Though with just a year left on his current contract, Pogba's Manchester United future is in doubt and the club should do everything in its power to retain him beyond 2022.

Paris Saint-Germain have been heavily linked with a move for Pogba, who could become a free agent next summer if he fails to agree on a new deal at Old Trafford.

#2 Patrice Evra

Manchester United v Aston Villa - Premier League
Manchester United v Aston Villa - Premier League

Manchester United fans will unanimously agree that Patrice Evra is a club legend, one of their own and one of their best signings.

He was a key member of Sir Alex Ferguson's squad that went on to create history by winning 20 Premier League titles.

Evra was one of two defensive signings in January 2006 along with Nemanja Vidic as Ferguson decided to shore up his defense in the wake of the injury to Gabriel Heinze.

Over the next eight years, Evra went on to write his name in Manchester United's history books. He started out as a wing-back and loved going forward to assist in attack.

However, his attacking prowess didn't mean that he was vulnerable to counter-attacking football. Evra perfected the art of tracking back and was one of the main components of the Manchester United defense that developed a reputation for being unbreachable.

Evra finished his Manchester United career with five league titles, three EFL Cup titles and a Champions League trophy. During a summer of drastic transfer activity, Juventus made Evra one of their signings in 2014.

#1 Eric Cantona

Red Carpet - 2014 Laureus World Sports Awards
Red Carpet - 2014 Laureus World Sports Awards

Eric Cantona was and is still one of the greatest signings of the Sir Alex Ferguson era. Leading up to the move from fierce rivals Leeds United, there was huge controversy and the Yorkshire giants drew the ire of fans by sanctioning the transfer.

However, the Leeds board had by then realized how difficult it was to keep such a turbulent character in the dressing room and the move suited both parties well.

What the new number seven did for Manchester United over the next five years is history. The Red Devils managed to win the league title in four of the five seasons with Cantona in their ranks.

Cantona was quite a physical presence on the pitch going up and down continuously, assisting in defense as well as scoring goals.

The Frenchman finished his career with the Red Devils in 1997. By then he had scored 81 goals in 180 games, averaging 0.45 goals per game.

This makes him an even better goal scorer for Manchester United than Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 118 goals from 292 games at an average of 0.40 per game.

Cantona, who remains the greatest Frenchman to play for Manchester United, was duly rewarded for his contributions at Old Trafford when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in English football back in 2002.

Edited by Nived Zenith


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