By Fiona McMurrey

Ahead of the conclusion of the Euro 2024 which has seen a particularly rocky start for France, catch up on your French football history by discovering or revisiting five of the best French football players of all time (subjectively!). French football has a rich history, graced by some of the most talented and influential players the sport has ever seen. From 1998 and 2018 World Cup heroes to club legends, France’s contribution to football has been immense.

1. Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane

Position: Midfielder
Clubs: Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid
National Team: 108 caps, 31 goals

Zinedine Zidane, often referred to as "Zizou," is widely considered one of the greatest footballers of all time. Known for his meticulous elegance, vision, and technique, Zidane's ability to control the game from midfield was unparalleled. He led France to their first World Cup victory in 1998, scoring two crucial goals in the final against Brazil. His performances in Euro 2000, which France also won, further cemented his legacy. At club level, Zidane astonished for Juventus and Real Madrid, winning numerous domestic and international titles, including the UEFA Champions League.

2. Michel Platini

Michel Platini

Position: Midfielder
Clubs: Nancy, Saint-Étienne, Juventus
National Team: 72 caps, 41 goals

Michel Platini is another French maestro whose influence on the game extends beyond his playing career. As a player, Platini was a prolific goalscoring midfielder, renowned for his free-kick prowess and leadership. He won three consecutive Ballon d'Or awards (1983, 1984, 1985) and was instrumental in France's European Championship victory in 1984, where he scored nine goals in five matches. Platini's time at Juventus was marked by several domestic titles and a European Cup victory.

3. Thierry Henry

Michel Platini

Position: Forward
Clubs: Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona, New York Red Bulls
National Team: 123 caps, 51 goals

Thierry Henry is synonymous with flair, speed, and clinical finishing. Arsenal's all-time leading scorer, Henry's spell in North London saw him become a Premier League legend, winning two league titles and two FA Cups. His exceptional ability to score and create goals made him a standout player in the English top flight. Henry was also pivotal in France's 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 triumphs. His time at Barcelona saw him win the treble in the 2008-2009 season, further solidifying his status as one of football's greats.

4. Kylian Mbappé

Michel Platini

Position: Forward
Clubs: Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain
National Team: 66 caps, 38 goals (as of June 2024)

Kylian Mbappé is widely regarded as one of the best football players of his generation. Known for his blistering speed, exceptional dribbling, and goal-scoring prowess, Mbappé has made a significant impact on the sport from a young age. He played a pivotal role in France's 2018 World Cup victory, scoring four goals, including one in the final, and becoming the second teenager after Pelé to score in a World Cup final. At club level, Mbappé has dominated with Paris Saint-Germain, winning multiple Ligue 1 titles and domestic cups, and earning numerous individual accolades, including being named the Ligue 1 Player of the Year multiple times.

5. Jean-Pierre Papin

Michel Platini

Position: Forward
Clubs: Valenciennes, Club Brugge, Marseille, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Bordeaux, Guingamp
National Team: 54 caps, 30 goals

Jean-Pierre Papin was a prolific striker, known for his acrobatic volleys and incredible goal-scoring ability. His most successful period came at Marseille, where he won four Ligue 1 titles and was the top scorer in the league for five consecutive seasons. Papin won the Ballon d'Or in 1991, becoming the first French player to do so since Kopa. His goal-scoring exploits continued at AC Milan, where he added two Serie A titles and a Champions League to his trophy cabinet.

Honorable Mentions

French football has been blessed with many other talented players, such as Lilian Thuram, Patrick Vieira, and Eric Cantona. Each of these players has made significant contributions to both their clubs and the national team, further enhancing France's reputation as a footballing powerhouse.

The legacy of French football is composed of these remarkable contributions of these extraordinary players. From Zidane's midfield genius to Henry's attacking brilliance and Mbappé's expeditious and explosive talent, each of these players has left a lasting impression on the sport, inspiring future generations of footballers around the world.