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Top 10 Most Famous French Soccer Players Of All Time

Top 10 Most Famous French Soccer Players Of All Time

With two World Cups in the National Trophy Cabinet, France is Le Foot (AKA soccer) royalty. Many talented players have played for Les Bleus (France’s national soccer team), some international legends of the beautiful game. Let’s look at a list of the top 10 most famous French soccer players to wear the celebrated blue jersey.

French Soccer Players

List of top 10 most famous French soccer players

  1. Kylian Mbappé
  2. Zinédine Zidane
  3. Michel Platini
  4. Didier Deschamps
  5. Eric Cantona
  6. Thierry Henry
  7. Raymond Kopa
  8. Patrick Vieira
  9. Franck Ribéry
  10. Marcel Desailly

Kylian Mbappé

Striker, played 73 times for France (2017-)

Kylian Mbappé
Sandro Halank, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Born the same year France first won the FIFA World Cup, 1998, Kylian Mbappé Lottin is the hottest player in France and a fast-emerging global superstar.

Placed third in 2023’s Ballon d’Or best player in the world, the precocious youngster scored four goals en route to World Cup glory in 2018. He was named best young player in the tournament.

In 2022, Mbappé almost single-handedly won the World Cup again, scoring a hat-trick in the final. Les Bleus heartbreakingly lost in a penalty shootout (3-3 final score) to an Argentina team led by the iconic Lionel Messi.

Currently captain of France and his moneyed domestic team PSG (Paris Saint-Germain F.C.), many predict Mbappé is the heir apparent to the GOAT, Messi. With many playing years ahead of him, he will almost certainly become the most celebrated French soccer player of modern times.

Zinédine Zidane

Midfielder, played 108 times for France (1994-2006)

Zinédine Zidane
Walterlan Papetti, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The current crown for the famous French soccer player sits atop Zinédine Zidane‘s bald head.

Zizou, Zidane’s affectionate nickname, was the tour de force behind France’s first World Cup win in 1998, scoring two goals in the final and comfortably bagging the ‘Man of the Match’ award.

He later picked up France’s highest honor, the Légion d’honneur, joining the likes of Victor Hugo and Louis Pasteur.

Less auspiciously, Zizou is remembered for his flying headbutt in the 2006 World Cup Final. France lost during a penalty shootout. Zidane had already left the pitch after earning a red card for that headbutt, one of the most infamous moments in soccer history.

Still, Zidane is considered a French soccer icon for his no-surrender attitude and for propelling France’s multicultural ‘Rainbow Team‘ to the top of the world in 1998.

Michel Platini

Midfielder, played 72 times for France (1976-1986)

Michel Platini
Piotr Drabik, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Michel François Platini is often hailed as the most talented French soccer player of any generation.

Three-time winner of the Balloon d’Or, soccer’s highest prize for players, Platini was known as le Roi, the King, during his 1980s heyday. He captained France as they scooped the European Championship before a jubilant home crowd in 1984. And won multiple domestic and European trophies playing for Italian giants Juventus.

After earning global acclaim for his free-kick and passing wizardry, Platini moved into football administration, rising to the top as UEFA (European football) president.

Platini would probably end his biography there. Placed under investigation for corruption, he was suspended from the game in 2016.

Platini was cleared of all charges in 2022; who knows what’s next for this most influential of French soccer players, on and off the field.

Didier Deschamps

Midfielder, played 103 times for France (1989-2000)

Didier Deschamps
Кирилл Венедиктов, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Didier Claude Deschamps captained the victorious 1998 World Cup team. He then led Les Bleus to the European title in 2000.

Nicknamed the le porteur d’eau (the water carrier) for his tireless, selfless defensive work, he was the core of France’s finest team.

A born leader, Deschamps has managed the national French football team since 2012, inspiring them to clinch the 2018 World Cup (and narrowly miss the 2022 title). The only name on this list that can claim to be one of the best French soccer players and one of the game’s most accomplished managers.

Eric Cantona

Forward, played 45 times for France (1987-1995)

Eric Cantona
Georges Biard, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Zidane gave us the flying headbutt; Eric Cantona went with the flying kung-fu kick. Against a spectator!

Eric Daniel Pierre Cantona might not be the very best French soccer player. But many would agree he’s one of the most famous.

Aside from crazy martial arts moves, Cantona is known for his whimsical philosophical observations (“When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea” is a gem to rival Voltaire).

He was also a first-class footballer. His golden period was with the English colossus, Manchester United. Red Devil fans know him simply as “King Eric.”

He also scored 20 goals for France, captained the French football team, appeared in movies, and found time to lead France’s beach soccer team to World Cup glory in 2005.

One of the most eccentric characters of the sport who is adored on both sides of the English Channel. He even has his own chant: the dangerously catchy “Ooh, ah, Cantona.

Thierry Henry

Striker, played 123 times for France (1997-2010)

Thierry Henry
Web Summit, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

An electric player on the pitch and smooth talker off it, Thierry Henry has been a regular on American screens, first playing for New York Red Bulls and post-retirement commentating on matches for CBS and Amazon Prime,

France’s second-most-capped player and highest goalscorer is not forgotten across the Atlantic. Especially not in Ireland, after infamously dumping them out of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers with a handball (two, as Irish supporters will happily remind you) missed by the referee.

Another French legend who gained adoration across the English Channel, having played 254 times for London team, Arsenal. Part of the glorious 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship team, Henry is widely considered one of France’s elite soccer players.

Raymond Kopa

Forward, played 45 times for France (1952-62)

Raymond Kopa
See page for author, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL, via Wikimedia Commons

Raymond Kopa was the most gifted French soccer player of his generation, a time when fans huddled around black and white televisions looking for the football.

Kopa bagged three European cups with the all-conquering Real Madrid of the 1950s. He also collected the Ballon d’Or in 1958, eventually adding a Legion d’honneur to his collection.

And always in the conversation for the title of the greatest French soccer player ever.

Patrick Vieira

Midfielder, played for France 107 times (1997-2009)

Patrick Vieira
Simon Heseltine, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Having cleared through some undisputed Les Bleus icons, the last names on our list are the substance of debates in bars across France.

Patrick Viera is another alumnus of the world-beating 1998 French football team. He is one of the most-capped players, lauded for his uncompromising style.

Like Thierry Henry and several other French soccer stars, Viera made his career with London-based Arsenal (then managed by former French player Arsène Wenger). He became captain of The Gunners and is today lauded as a club legend.

Viera moved from Senegal as a child and became one of the greatest French soccer players. He currently manages Strasbourg in France’s top league, so could yet achieve Deschamps’s level of glory.

Franck Ribéry

Winger, played 81 times for France (2006-2014)

Franck Ribéry
Sven Mandel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Without a World Cup or European Championship to his name, it’s hard to stand out in France’s soccer hall of fame. But Franck Henry Pierre Ribéry was one of the country’s most complete players, adored for his dynamic forward style, speed, and pinpoint passing.

He has swept awards as player of the year in France (three times), Germany, and Europe. He also collected multiple titles with the German giant, Bayern Munich, including a Champions League in 2013.

Marcel Desailly

Center-back/midfielder, played for France 116 times (1993-2004)

Marcel Desailly
Memento000, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We could close out this pick of the best French soccer players with names like Antoine Griezmann or N’Golo Kanté. But in our entirely subjective opinion, “The Rock” deserves the last spot.

Before an ex-wrestler stole his nickname, Marcel Desailly was the original immovable man. A star of the unstoppable team that won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship, he is another reason they were considered the shiniest of any golden generation.

Celebrities don’t get much bigger than stars of the national game. But if you want to find out who shares the limelight, our guide to the most famous actors in France would be a good starting point.

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Dan Forsythe

A politics and history graduate with a technical writing background and based in France, Dan writes amazing articles for all things French. An insatiable traveler, Dan has crisscrossed France, Europe, and beyond. When he’s not hiking or falling down historical rabbit holes, Dan sips tea and writes technical pieces or blog posts about travel, history, and life in his adopted home.

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