World Cup 2022
15 Greatest French Footballers of All-Time in the FIFA World Cup 

15 Greatest French Footballers of All-Time in the FIFA World Cup 

I’ll be looking at the best players from some of the World Cup’s most successful countries in a special series for the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

55Fifabet examines the top 15 players to have played FIFA World Cup from France. Enjoy reading!

#15 Jean Tigana (1980-88, 52 caps, 1 goal)

Jean Tigana, a gangly midfielder, narrowly edges out Emmanuel Petit, Bixente Lizarazu, and teammate Alain Giresse on this list. Tigana was a key member of France’s “Magic Square” midfield in the 1980s, alongside Giresse, Luis Fernandez, and Michel Platini.

This collaboration was instrumental in France winning the European Championships in 1984 and finishing third in the World Cup two years later.

#14 Fabien Barthez (1994-2006, 87 caps) 

Fabien Barthez is a player who many football fans dismiss as a clown who can only be relied on to make a mistake at some point. While he had his moments, his outstanding record as a goalkeeper should not be overlooked.

Barthez was a key member of France’s World Cup-winning team in 1998, conceding only two goals in the seven games Les Bleus played. He received the Yashin award for his efforts, as well as being named European Goalkeeper of the Year, an honor he repeated in 2000.

Only Peter Shilton has kept more clean sheets in a World Cup than Barthez, with his tally of 10 coming in only 17 appearances.

#13 Claude Makelele (1995-2008, 71 caps)

How often has Claude Makelele been referred to as an “unsung hero”? He was underappreciated for France until perhaps too late in his career. Makelele retired from international football in 2004 with only 33 caps, having missed his country’s finest hour in 1998 and the after-party in 2000.

However, his performances at the club level made everyone realize how good he was, and he was coaxed out of retirement to help France qualify for the 2006 World Cup alongside Lilian Thuram and Zinedine Zidane.

After that, he led them to the final before retiring again, only to be dragged back into action to help his country qualify for Euro 2008. It appeared that France couldn’t live without him, and his importance to the team was clear as Makelele became one of the first names on the team sheet.

#12 Marcel Desailly (1993-2004, 116 caps, 3 goals) 

Desailly, who has 116 caps to his name as well as World Cup and European Championship winners medals, may feel hard done by after missing out on the top ten, but the quality of the players ahead of him is such that the commanding center-back only makes it into 12th place.

Despite being sent off in the 1998 World Cup final, Desailly had proven to be an important member of the team, a role he played admirably in Euro 2000. After Didier Deschamps retired from international duty, he was named captain and led France to the Confederations Cup victory in 2001.

In 2003, he became the most capped French player of all time, with 116 appearances, a record only Lilian Thuram and Thierry Henry have since surpassed.

#11 Patrick Vieira (1997-2009, 107 caps, 6 goals)

Vieira, another France’s golden era member, was a regular in the France lineup during his prime. In the 1998 World Cup, he was a relative unknown, but by 2000, he had established himself as a first-choice midfielder, helping France win the European Championships.

He was also a member of France’s winning Confederations Cup squad in 2001, and he was still putting in top-drawer performances in 2006, helping Les Bleus reach the World Cup final.

Despite his experience and leadership, Vieira was left out of France’s World Cup squad, effectively ending an illustrious international career.

#10 Laurent Blanc (1989-2000, 97 caps, 16 goals)

Without Laurent Blanc, who would kiss the goalkeeper’s head, we couldn’t have Barthez on this list. Blanc was a towering defender who remained an important part of France’s setup well into his 30s.

Not bad for a guy who retired in 1994. Fortunately for the French public, Aime Jacquet persuaded Blanc to come out of retirement and assembled a new team, with Blanc as a key member.

It was successful. Blanc was an important part of France’s World Cup victories in 1998 (scoring the World Cup’s first ever golden goal) and 2000, teaming up with Marcel Desailly at the back to form a formidable defense.

Readers of France Football Magazine voted him the fourth best French player of all time in 2006.

#9 Lilian Thuram (1994-2008, 142 caps, 2 goals)

It’s no coincidence that France’s most capped player is also one of the best. Thuram was a key figure during France’s golden era, scoring his only two international goals in the 1998 World Cup semi-final.

He also took part in the European Championships in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 (making a record 16 appearances in this tournament), as well as the World Cups in 2002 and 2006.

He maintained an active role in the international setup throughout his tenure, whereas many others were reduced to bit parts. He was named man-of-the-match in the 2006 World Cup semi-final, and he captained his country in Euro 2008.

#8 Didier Deschamps (1989-2000, 103 caps, 4 goals)

Fellow countryman Eric Cantona once referred to Didier Deschamps as the “water carrier.” While this statement was interpreted negatively, it accurately described Deschamps’ role on the team. First, take possession of the ball and pass it to the “better” players.

It was also a vitally important job. Deschamps was named captain of the French team for the World Cup in 1998, becoming the first Frenchman to win the trophy and the European Championships in 2000.

In a team brimming with class, Deschamps did the dirty work better than anyone else, allowing Zinedine Zidane to impose his class on the games.

#7 Cantona, Eric (1987-1995, 45 caps, 20 goals)

I’m expecting one of two reactions to this placement: amazement that I put him so high or shock that I put him so low. However, both sides make valid points.

This list is primarily concerned with international football, and there are players below Cantona who have achieved more on the international stage, but it also considers the quality of the player involved, and this is where Cantona begins to climb the rankings once more.

Cantona, the stereotypical mercurial Frenchman, was a club king, but his kung-fu kick ended any repeat on the international stage. While his 45 appearances showcased his talent, by the time he returned from his ban, a young Zinedine Zidane had taken his place.

#6 Jean-Pierre Papin (1986-1995, 54 caps, 30 goals)

Jean-Pierre Papin, like Cantona, was caught between two golden eras in French football, but with a front two of Papin and Cantona’s caliber, it’s surprising Les Bleus didn’t fare better.

In fact, despite being a relative newcomer to the side, Papin had his greatest success for France without Cantona, helping them to third place in the 1986 World Cup.

His club record is even better than his international record, having finished as Ligue 1’s top scorer for five seasons in a row and winning the prestigious Ballon d’Or in 1991.

#5 Thierry Henry (1997-Present, 119 caps, 51 goals)

Thierry Henry’s international career will most likely be remembered for the handball that prevented Ireland from qualifying for this summer’s World Cup, which is a great shame because a truly remarkable career would be forgotten.

With 119 caps, Henry is the second most capped French player in history, and he has the opportunity to add to that total in South Africa. With 51 goals, he already holds the French record, ten more than second-placed Michel Platini.

Henry was a member of France’s winning teams at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, as well as the Confederations Cup in 2003 and the World Cup final in 2006.

#4 Only Fontaine (1953-1960, 21 caps, 30 goals)

Just Fontaine’s 13-goal haul in the 1958 World Cup is legendary. It took Gerd Muller, arguably the greatest goalscorer of all time, two World Cups to better it, and Ronaldo, another of the greatest players, to lace up his boots, four.

To date, only those two players have scored more World Cup goals than Fontaine. His performance in 1958 was possibly the greatest individual World Cup performance ever seen, with a four-goal haul against defending champions West Germany being the highlight.

As evidenced by his international goals-to-games ratio, he maintained this prolific strike rate throughout his career. As a result, the French Football Federation named him the best French footballer of the last 50 years in 2003.

#3 Raymond Kopa (1952-1962, 45 caps, 18 goals)

Raymond Kopa is the only player to have won both the Young Player of the Tournament and the Player of the Tournament awards in two World Cups, in 1954 and 1958.

The 1958 award is the most impressive because he had to beat out Pele, Garrincha, and teammate Just Fontaine to win it. His performances at the World Cup earned him the Ballon d’Or later that year.

At the club level, Kopa was a elite member, winning numerous trophies alongside Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas at the all-conquering Real Madrid.

#2 Platini, Michel (1976-1987, 76 caps, 41 goals)

Whatever you think of Michel Platini now, he was one of the most gifted players ever to grace a football field. His passing, shooting and dead-ball abilities were among the best in the game’s history.

These abilities helped the French talisman captain his country to two World Cup semi-final appearances, in 1982 and 1986, but his pinnacle came at the 1984 European Championships.

Platini scored nine goals, including two hat-tricks, and dominated all five games as Les Bleus won their first international title. Platini was named Player of the Tournament and top scorer, demonstrating his dominance.

The three-time Ballon d’Or winner hasn’t won over football fans since his retirement, but one should not forget Platini, the player’s mastery.

#1 Zidane, Zinedine (1994-2006, 108 caps, 31 goals)

What can we add to what has already been saying about Zinedine Zidane?

He was a magician, an artist, and the epitome of class.

Zidane has been France’s crown jewel, from his two famous headers in the 1998 World Cup final that sent his country into ecstatic delirium to his rather more infamous header in 2006 final that sent the same country into despair.

Because of Cantona’s lengthy suspension gave Zidane his chance in the French team, and he never looked back. After scoring twice in the 1998 World Cup final to help France defeat Brazil 3-0, completely outclassing his rival Ronaldo, he scored the golden goal in the Euro 2000 semi-final, which France won.

His absence from France’s first two World Cup matches due to injury proved costly as Les Bleus were eliminated in the group stages, but four years later, he was back at his best, producing stellar performances time and time again.

He was named Player of the Tournament prior to the final, and he announced that this would be his final game in football.

When he put France ahead, he became only the fourth player in World Cup history to do so. Still, the game will be remembered for his headbutt on Marco Materazzi, which ended the career of one of the game’s greatest players… and that’s without even mentioning his three World Player of the Year awards.

Zinedine Zidane is regarded as the greatest French player of all time.