10 Best French Soccer Players of All Time 

If you think of famous French exports, you’ll probably think of great wine, great restaurants, and great bread, but French soccer players are easily on a par with all of these. Over the decades, France has produced and invariably exported some of the world’s greatest soccer players. 

Every great team invariably has a French player who is invaluable to the club’s success. French players, blessed with skill and a hunger to succeed on the world stage, never go out of fashion.

It’s no wonder clubs throughout Europe send scouts to the French leagues looking for the next superstar player; as a soccer nation, there aren’t many better places to find quality players than France. 

Today we’re going to look at the 10 best French soccer players of all time, and it was a tough list to compile, as we’ve had to leave off some truly exceptional soccer players.

If time allowed, the list could easily be the top 100 players, and they would all be of incredible quality. So, let’s cast our eye over some of the best players France, and world soccer, have ever seen. 

10. N’Golo Kante 

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  • Position: Defensive Midfield

It’s a testament to just how vital a player Kante is to both France and Chelsea that the former Leicester City central midfielder makes our list. One of the most consistent and energetic players the Premier League has ever seen, N’Golo Kante is a box-to-box midfielder without peer.

The French International has cemented his place at both club and country, and it’s his intelligence and ball-winning skills that make him invaluable to both. 

Kante is one of the most selfless players around and spends most games harrying opponents to retrieve the ball, constantly moving, and continually providing passing options to his teammates.

He rarely loses the ball, rarely gets booked, and is one of the first names on the teamsheet. Every team needs a midfield engine, and Kante is the Rolls Royce of central midfielders. 

9. Didier Deschamps 

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  • Position: Defensive Midfield

Current France manager Didier Deschamps is a former defensive midfielder most well-known for his tremendous work rate and stamina as a player.

Usually the team captain, Deschamps displayed extraordinary leadership skills on and off the field and is only the second player to lift a World Cup as both a captain and a manager, alongside Franz Beckenbauer.

In a distinguished career that saw the Frenchman play for Nantes, Marseille, Valencia, Juventus, and Chelsea, Deschamps was an integral part of every team he played in. A Champions League winner with Marseille in 1993, it was at Juventus that his profile rocketed. 

With three Serie A titles, runners-up medals in three Champions Leagues, as well as a World Cup and European Championships winner with France, Deschamps was a natural leader and winner.

Now in charge at Les Bleus, Deschamps continues to build his legacy as one of the most important products French soccer has ever produced. 

8. Eric Cantona 

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  • Position: Centre-Forward

Love him or hate him, most soccer fans will have at least some opinion on Eric Cantona, one of his generation’s most enigmatic and talented soccer players.

As a player, Cantona was often brilliant beyond words but had a temperament that often infuriated fans and managers alike. Cantona had played for seven teams but is best known for his time at Manchester United, with the Frenchman finally finding his home at Old Trafford. 

In his five seasons playing for Alex Ferguson, Cantona helped Manchester United wth the league four times, including two leagues and FA Cup double-winning seasons. A bullish, technically gifted player, King Eric, as fans affectionately knew him, transformed a young United side into the powerhouse of English soccer. 

Once infamously banned from playing for almost a year after jumping into the crowd to kung-fu kick a fan in the face, Cantona returned after his ban and proceeded to take United to new levels. Cantona could head the ball, score with either foot, hold up play, and had a passing ability that bordered on the mystical. 

But his arrogance and supreme confidence in his abilities allowed the younger players around him to believe that they could compete with the best.

With players like David Beckham, Gary Neville, and Paul Scholes emerging as the best young players in England, Cantona took on the mantle of team talisman, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

7. Patrick Vieira 

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  • Position: Defensive Midfield

One of the greatest midfielders the Premier League has ever seen, Patrick Vieira was a combative yet elegant player with a mean streak that was perfectly suited to the English game of the 1990s.

After a breakout season with Cannes, Vieira moved to AC Milan in Italy, where after a mere two appearances, he was sold to Arsenal in 1996. 

Over the next nine years, Vieira would develop into one of the most formidable midfielders in world soccer, controlling the center of the park with his passing range and tackling ability.

Without the ball, the Frenchman was a tenacious harrier of the opposition, chasing players down, always anticipating and breaking down attacks. 

With the ball, Vieira transformed; the tall, rangy player would lift his head and glide across the pitch, looking for ways to start an attack.

Arsenal enjoyed a massive period of dominance with Patrick Vieira in their team, and alongside fellow French internationals, Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka; Arsenal won three Premier Leagues, four FA Cups, and three Community Shields. 

6. Marcel Desailly 

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  • Position: Centre-Back

In a career spanning two decades, Marcel Desailly was, at his peak, arguably the best defender on the planet.

With 572 league appearances for clubs as illustrious as Marseille, AC Milan, and Chelsea, Desailly turned defending into an art form, a colossal player whose tackling ability, strength, and leadership skills stood out as the best in the world. 

Desailly was equally successful on the international stage, winning the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championships two years later.

Twice a Champions League winner, Desaiily played in some of the most entertaining and dominant teams of the 1990s. Even today, he is considered the benchmark of what a complete defender looks like. 

5. Franck Ribery 

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  • Position: Left Winger

Now in his 23rd season as a professional soccer player, Franck Ribery has been a supremely consistent performer throughout his career.

A solid and steadily improving career in France before a move to Bayern Munich propelled him into the limelight in 2007; Ribery played in 273 league games, scoring 86 goals for the Bavarian giants. 

A very respectable return for a winger and helped in no small way by the players blistering pace and excellent ball control.

With the ball at his feet and traveling at high speed, Ribery is a fearsome sight, and many defenders have been left flat on their back as they tried to stop the Frenchman from progressing down the right wing. 

Despite suffering from several injuries throughout his career, Ribery has been a mainstay in European soccer for 20 years and is a fan favorite due to his tendency to showboat.

Described by UEFA as a “Crowd pleaser,” Ribery is known as a joker off the field, and his onfield displays show him to have a real passion for playing exciting soccer.

4. Karim Benzema 

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  • Position: Centre-Forward

Karim Benzema scores goals, period. A product of the Lyon youth academy and having played for his hometown club from 2004 to 2009, Benzema moved to Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2009.

Since his move to the Spanish capital in 2009, the French striker has scored a little over a goal every two games, racking up 219 league goals in 415 appearances. 

Regarded by his peers as one of the best strikers of his generation, Benzema has aged like a fine wine, becoming ever more critical to Madrid as the years have gone by. The Frenchman is the team talisman; Madrid plays well when he plays well. 

Four La Liga titles and an incredible five Champions League winners medals, as well as a massive haul of other domestic titles, take pride of place in the Benzema household. And the prolific and consistent striker has been a vital player in many of the numerous finals he has played in. 

At 34 years old, Benzema shows no signs of slowing down; his strength on the ball, his awareness, and the fact that he just keeps on scoring goals for fun make him even more critical to club and country than ever.

He’s still to win a really major honor with France, and he may wish to keep playing until that dream is fulfilled too. 

3. Michel Platini 

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  • Position: Midfielder

Forget about the UEFA Presidency scandal that has meant Michel Platini has been banned from involvement in soccer for eight years; it’s Michel Platini, the player we’re interested in, and what a player he was.

A three-time Ballon d’Or winner, Platini is one of the greatest attacking midfielders in history, with an astonishingly good scoring record, with 224 goals in just 432 league appearances. 

After ten years of being the best player in France, first with Nancy and then later with Saint-Etienne, Platini moved to Juventus in 1982 and became one of the most creative, influential players in European soccer.

Platini scored so many goals because of his incredible free-kick technique, which many players since have emulated. 

As you’d suspect of a future UEFA president, Platini was a leader on the field, not only because of his incredible skills; his drive and determination to win meant he was a larger-than-life player, so it’s almost inevitable the player would stay in soccer in some form.

One criticism of Platini was his lack of interest in returning to help his defenders; his defensive work was poor, to say the least. Platini made up for this with his creativity, it’s hard to criticize the match winner every week.

On the international stage, Platini shone, with 41 goals in 72 appearances for France, helping them to win the 1984 European Championships on home soil. Platini won many team honors throughout his career, but his individual awards are simply staggering, with several awards for 

being the top scorer in both Serie A and European championships among the dozens of individual awards he has. An incredible player with a superb career. 

2. Thierry Henry 

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  • Position: Centre-Forward

Anyone lucky enough to see Thierry Henry play in his prime will agree; this French superstar was an absolute thoroughbred of a player. Elegant, intelligent, and absolutely lethal in front of goal, Henry terrified defenders to death.

It was at Arsenal that Henry became one of the best players on the planet, as his Monaco and Juventus spell both saw the future striker playing as a winger. 

Arsene Wenger took Henry to Arsenal in 1999, and over the next eight seasons, he would transform the pacy yet unpolished player into a striker without peer.

With pace to burn, Henry would often be left in a one-on-one situation with goalkeepers, and his calmness under pressure meant he rarely missed the target. 

Henry’s ability to calmly stroke the ball into the corner of the net made many of his goals look easy. However, the excellent Frenchman often scored spectacular goals, including goals from a distance or beating several players before rounding the keeper.

Easily one of the best strikers in Premier League history; Henry is a legend at Arsenal and a Premier League icon. 

A move to Barcelona in 2007 showed another side to Thierry Henry, with Arsenal allowing their all-time leading scorer to move to the only club he would ever leave Arsenal for.

Despite being the main striker at Arsenal, at Barcelona, Henry was deployed on the wings, scoring less than over recent years, but still scoring 35 goals and winning seven trophies with the Catalan giants in only three seasons. 

While playing for France, Henry scored 51 goals in 123 appearances, making him his country’s most prolific striker of all time. A move into management after his retirement in 2012 has been less successful, but Thierry Henry will go down as one of the greatest French players of all time for his playing career. 

1. Zinedine Zidane 

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  • Position: Attacking Midfield

Watching Zinedine Zidane play soccer was like watching ballet; his movement, the elegance of his passing, his vision, and his ball control was decades ahead of his rivals.

A player of incredible loyalty, Zidane only played for four teams in his career. And after leaving Cannes for Bordeaux in 1992, the Frenchman moved to Juventus in 1996 and became one of the most intelligent and complete midfielders of any generation. 

Five prolific and successful seasons later, Zidane moved to Real Madrid for a then-world-record €77.5 million, a record that would stand for eight more years.

Every manager on the planet admired the mercurial Frenchman, every team wished they had him in their ranks, and every player dreamed of having just half the skill of Zidane. 

In the present era, many of the best soccer players on the planet cite Zidane as the player they most admired, with Belgian star Eden Hazard admitting he spent countless hours watching videos of Zidane online to learn from the player.

Zidane was famous for his incredible passing abilities, his close control of the ball, and his ability to find space to move regardless of the teams trying their best to stop him. 

France’s greatest ever player, Zidane helped his team win the 1998 World Cup, finish runners-up in 2006, and lead the team to victory in the 2000 European Championships.

Domestically, the Frenchman has several Serie A titles, a La Liga title with Real Madrid, and a host of other domestic trophies to his name. 

Scandalously, Zidane has never won the Ballon d’Or, with only a third-place bronze medal in the 1997 award, which, given his talent and importance to world soccer, is a mystery that will never be solved.

It was impossible to place anyone higher on our list; for sheer brilliance and influence on modern soccer, Zinedine Zidane has to be the best French soccer player of all time.

Connor Smith

I'm Connor, the guy behind SoccerPrime. I'm a former NCAA Div 1 college player that retired at the age of 21 due to injuries - which led me into a new career as a soccer coach.

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