France legends: The best French players of all time

  • France have boasted some of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen
  • The two-time world champions have a history of producing stylish footballers
  • Kylian Mbappe is one of the modern greats for Les Bleus
France have boasted some of the all-time greats
France have boasted some of the all-time greats / PAUL BARKER/GettyImages

France have the uncanny ability to produce generation after generation of world-class footballers.

The two-time world champions have boasted truly elite players over the years, with legendary figures donning the blue of the French national team in every position on the pitch. Many of the country's most gifted footballers have inspired supporters across the globe.

With a hell of a lot to choose from, here are the 25 best players to have represented France.

25. Sylvain Wiltord

Sylvain Wiltord of France
Wiltord just missed out on World Cup glory / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

Named French Footballer of the Year in 1999 in the same year as his first international cap, Sylvain Wiltord finished his career eight appearances shy of a century for Les Bleus.

The dynamic winger just missed out on World Cup glory in 1998 but did help his country triumph at the Euros in 2000. He netted the strike that took the final to extra-time against Italy in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

24. Jean Tigana

Tigana made over 50 international appearances / LAURENT GOMIS/GettyImages

Jean Tigana also knew what it meant to be a European champion, helping France to their first major international trophy in 1984. A relentless runner, the Bordeaux icon made up a devastating midfield for Les Bleus at the tournament and proved crucial to their success.

Known for his excellent distribution, Tigana only ever managed one goal for France but was a major participant during a sensational era.

23. David Trezeguet

French forward David Trezeguet jubilates
Trezeguet celebrates his Euro 2000-winning strike / PATRICK HERTZOG/GettyImages

Wiltord produced the goal that sent Euro 2000 to extra time but David Trezeguet scored the winner. With 103 minutes on the clock, the forward decided the showpiece event by volleying home the all-important golden goal.

That was undeniably his peak at international level, although the Juventus legend did win the World Cup in 1998 as well. Having said that, his penalty miss in the 2006 World Cup final shootout against Italy proved decisive.

22. Karim Benzema

Benzema was not always popular in France / FRANCK FIFE/GettyImages

Despite making 97 appearances for France over an interrupted 15-year spell, there's still a sense of 'what if' about Karim Benzema's international career. A very tumultuous relationship with the French Football Federation (FFF) limited his influence on the big stage, with the former Real Madrid forward unable to claim major silverware for his country.

The best he could manage was the UEFA Nations League in 2021 and a World Cup final appearance in 2022, but in terms of pure ability, not many Frenchmen come close to matching the Ballon d'Or winner.

21. Hugo Lloris

Hugo Lloris
France's most capped captain / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Hugo Lloris always tended to divide opinion. It's been tough to decipher just how good he actually is over the past decade, but the fact that he captained Les Bleus 121 times - the most of any player - speaks volumes.

Let's not forget he won the World Cup as skipper in 2018 and is France's most capped player ever. While he did benefit from a lack of competition, that's still an immense achievement.

20. Franck Ribery

Franck Ribery
Ribery was a super attacker / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

Another player often in dispute with the FFF, Franck Ribery arguably underachieved at international level. The dazzling winger was as technically gifted as they come, but sometimes failed to reach his potential in a France jersey.

Still, he was a phenomenal attacker for Les Bleus and was part of the squad that almost reclaimed the World Cup in 2006. The Bayern Munich legend finished with 16 goals in 81 appearances and was an absolute joy to watch in full flight.

19. Olivier Giroud

Olivier Giroud
France's record goalscorer / Jean Catuffe/GettyImages

Despite being France's record goalscorer, Olivier Giroud is still not universally loved by French football fans. The lanky centre forward is not the most graceful footballer, perhaps his only undoing on the international stage.

He may not have scored at the 2018 World Cup but did feature readily for manager Didier Deschamps. In typical Giroud fashion, he enabled those around him to thrive en route to success.

18. Claude Makelele

Soccer 2005 - Exhibition game - France vs Ivory Coast
Makelele was an astonishing midfielder / Eddy LEMAISTRE/GettyImages

Claude Makelele walked so N'Golo Kante could run. The former Real Madrid and Chelsea superstar was sensational for club and country, breaking play up at the base of midfield. A little like Giroud, he was the ultimate facilitator for France's incredible forwards.

Makelele was not chosen for either the 1998 World Cup or Euro 2000 triumphs, meaning he finished his international career empty-handed. Regardless, he's a French hero and much-loved figure.

17. Alain Giresse

Soccer - Alain Giresse
An extremely talented midfielder / Gilbert Iundt/GettyImages

Another member of the 1984 European champions, Alain Giresse spent several years alongside Tigana at Bordeaux and in the French national team. They dominated midfields for club and country, with Giresse claiming three French Footballer of the Year awards during the 1980s.

He also finished runner-up in the 1982 Ballon d'Or and his excellent displays two years later earned him a place in the Team of the Tournament at Euro 1984.

16. Marius Tresor

Soccer - Marius Tresor
Tresor was an elite defender / Jean-Yves Ruszniewski/GettyImages

Bordeaux really were blessed in the 1980s, with imposing centre-back Marius Tresor also representing the French side for four years at the beginning of the decade. He remains one of the country's all-time great defenders.

Unfortunately for Tresor, he made his final international appearance in 1983, meaning he missed out on success at Euro 1984.

15. N'Golo Kante

N'golo Kante
Kante is blessed with endless energy / James Williamson - AMA/GettyImages

While his international career has come up shorter than those of France's other footballing heroes, there is no doubting just how crucial N'Golo Kante has been to Les Bleus' recent success.

He was an instrumental figure during the 2018 World Cup, with the former Chelsea man often a cheat code in the engine room. Things may have played out differently for Les Bleus had Kante been fit for the 2022 World Cup.

14. Laurent Blanc

Laurent Blanc
Blanc also managed France / Sportsphoto/Allstar/GettyImages

Laurent Blanc closed out a glittering international career by winning the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, finishing up with a remarkable 97 caps for France. Despite being a leader at the back, he produced 16 goals for Les Bleus.

Things were not quite as convincing when Blanc turned France manager in 2010, but his contributions as a player mean he has more than enough credit left in the bank.

13. Just Fontaine

Fontaine lifted up by teammates / STAFF/GettyImages

Only three players have scored more goals at World Cups than French forward Just Fontaine after he registered 13 in the competition. He only made 21 appearances for his national team across a seven-year career - international matches were far less frequent during the 1950s - but managed to score 30 times.

In 1958, he scored a staggering 18 goals in just 12 France matches, with the diminutive and ruthless striker finishing third at the World Cup and in the Ballon d'Or vote that year.

12. Jean-Pierre Papin

A ruthless centre-forward / Chris Cole/GettyImages

One of France's all-time greats and the winner of the 1991 Ballon d'Or, strikers don't come much more clinical than Jean-Pierre Papin. Nor do they have names as quintessentially French.

Adored by fans of the national team as well as those at Marseille, Papin provided 30 goals in 54 caps, although he was never able to fire France to glory on the international stage.

11. Antoine Griezmann

Antoine Griezmann
Griezmann is an under-appreciated French star / Frederic Stevens/GettyImages

Someone who deserves more respect than he often receives, Antoine Griezmann is a footballer who makes everything look so simple. Whether playing up top or in his new-look midfield role for France, he is elegance personified.

The Atletico Madrid hero can manipulate a football like few other players, with such ability helping him win the Euro 2016 Golden Boot and the 2018 World Cup.

10. Raymond Kopa

Kopa represented France for a decade / STRINGER/GettyImages

A trailblazing French forward, Raymond Kopa achieved more at club level than he did on the international stage. He lifted three European Cups with Real Madrid and won four first division titles with Reims, but his influence for Les Bleus was still impressive.

The striker, who netted 18 times for France in 45 appearances, came close to international glory at the 1958 World Cup, with his performances helping the French finish third in the competition. He was named in the Team of the Tournament too, claiming the Ballon d'Or the same year.

9. Eric Cantona

Soccer - Eric Cantona
A maverick for club and country / Jean-Yves Ruszniewski/GettyImages

France have had their fair share of controversial forwards and Eric Cantona is certainly one of them. He too sometimes had a difficult relationship with the FFF and his national team managers, but his exceptional talent quickly endeared him to supporters.

The maverick forward was part of a gifted French team that often underachieved, but his individual brilliance helped him write his name into French football folklore.

8. Didier Deschamps

1998 World Cup: France vs. Paraguay
A great player and manager / Christian Liewig - Corbis/GettyImages

Only three men have won the World Cup as both a player and a manager. Didier Deschamps is one of them.

The midfielder was a key member of the 1998 winners, captaining his side at the tournament on home soil. He would also lead his country to the trophy at the Euros two years later, with his personality and character perhaps overshadowing his technical ability.

What he has done as France's manager is also remarkable, helping build one of the most formidable national teams ever assembled.

7. Marcel Desailly

Foot : World Cup 2002 / Preview
Desailly was a French hero / Tim de Waele/GettyImages

Only five players have more caps for France than Marcel Desailly, who represented his country on 116 occasions. Many of them came as captain, with the centre-back taking the armband after Deschamps' retirement. He was a natural born leader at the back.

A crucial member of the 1998 World Cup-winning side, Desailly did actually get sent off in the final against Brazil. However, his two yellow cards proved inconsequential as France romped to a 3-0 victory.

6. Patrick Vieira

Patrick Vieira
A traditional defensive midfielder / Phil Cole/GettyImages

France's list of defensive midfielders over the past few decades is truly astonishing. Admittedly, Patrick Vieira was often deployed in a more advanced role where he could use his pace and physicality to carve open the opposition, but he was just as handy as a shield for the back four.

The Arsenal icon was not a player to be messed with either on the pitch or in the dugout - just ask Roy Keane - and was a dominant figure in France's engine room for 12 years, winning two major trophies with Les Bleus.

5. Lillian Thuram

Lilian Thuram
France's most capped outfield player / Sportsphoto/Allstar/GettyImages

No outfield player has ever made more appearances for the French national team than Lillian Thuram. 142 appearances in the fabled blue jersey is an amazing feat, with the 1997 French Footballer of the Year enjoying huge success with Les Bleus in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Thuram, whose sons Marcus and Kephren have both represented France, was the perfect blend of retro and modern defender, with the ability to play at centre-back and right-back.

4. Kylian Mbappe

Kylian Mbappe
A World Cup winner at a young age / Matthias Hangst/GettyImages

With much of his international career still to come, it's scary to think just where he could end up on this list by the time he hangs up his boots. There's a very good chance it's higher than fourth.

Some may argue that it's too early to judge Kylian Mbappe in comparison to other French legends, but he is a World Cup winner and already just a goal away from Fontaine's tally at football's most prestigious tournament. Even in defeat at the 2022 World Cup, he bagged a hat-trick in the final.

A simply astonishing footballer with the world at his feet.

3. Thierry Henry

Foot : World Cup 2002 / Preview
Henry was frightening / Tim de Waele/GettyImages

A player who inspired Mbappe and countless other footballers across the world, Thierry Henry is the benchmark for French wingers. His pace, skill, flair and raw talent made him borderline unstoppable, with Arsenal the beneficiaries of his incredible displays for many a year.

With 51 goals in 123 matches and a World Cup and a European Championship to his name, there is no questioning his pedigree among France's legendary figures. There have been few more naturally joyful footballers than Henry,

2. Michel Platini

Michel Platini was a magician / PASCAL GEORGE/GettyImages

Firmly separating his playing career and his post-retirement shenanigans with UEFA and FIFA, Michel Platini is one of the original French superstars. The linchpin of the 1984 Euros winners, the three-time Ballon d'Or victor was one of the most gifted footballers of his generation.

Platini scored nine goals at Euro 1984 and provided a crucial strike in the final itself against Spain, adding to hat-tricks against Yugoslavia and Belgium in the group stage. It really was Platini's tournament and his crowning glory in a France shirt.

1. Zinedine Zidane

A true legend of the game / PIERRE VERDY/GettyImages

While his most famous international moment is not one remembered fondly in France - that headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final - Zinedine Zidane captured the hearts of the French population like few footballers ever have. He was universally adored across the nation.

Most football fans quickly fell in love with him for his exquisite displays in midfield, gliding from box-to-box and deciding matches with a single swing of his boot.

A World Cup and Euros winner, Zidane is the best of a very impressive bunch.