Football – 5 best French players to ever play in the Premier League

The Premier League has been blessed with some magnificent players over the year, and many of them have been French.

Arsenal legend Thierry Henry

Those Gallic stars have won both collective and individual awards galore and added both class and composure to their sides.

5) Eric Cantona (Leeds 1992 and Manchester United 1992-97)

Three decades on, Leeds’ decision to sell Eric Cantona to Pennines rivals Manchester United still appears baffling. That might be hindsight talking because at the time, all was not well with the Marseille-born forward at Elland Road.

However, even in those days, a fee of £1m was paltry, especially as he went on to immediately inspire United to the Premier League title, the first time they had topped the standings since 1967.

Cantona would go on to win the Premier League title in all of his seasons in Manchester, barring one, 1994-95 when he was banned for his infamous kung fu kick on a fan at Crystal Palace.

After often wearing the armband in Steve Bruce’s final season, ‘The King’ was named club captain in 1996 before retiring the following year.

Cantona scored 70 goals in 156 Premier League games but it was the way he played that inspired. Despite wearing United’s iconic number seven shirt, he was arguably the Premier League’s first great ‘number 10’ and undoubtedly changed English football.

4) Thierry Henry (Arsenal 1999-2007, 2012)

Similar to Cantona, Henry enjoyed his best moments in the Premier League after a tough spell elsewhere, this time in Italy with Juventus.

Arsene Wenger previously worked with him at Monaco and immediately switched him from the left wing to through the middle. The genius in that call was that he knew Henry would naturally drift to the left, making him tough to mark and a host of his 175 Premier League goals came via the space created by defenders not wanting to follow him out wide.

That tally of strikes is a record for French players and he even managed to find the net when he returned for a brief stint in 2012.

The first of two of the ‘Invincibles’ to feature on this list, that 2003-04 campaign was one of four occasions he won the Premier League’s Golden Boot.

3) Patrick Vieira (Arsenal 1996-2005 and Manchester City 2010-11)

While Henry provided the strike power for the Invincibles, Patrick Vieira was the steel. A brilliant captain, Vieira had it all, able to both break up the play and structure it, frustrating opponents before inspiring his side in transition.

Like his fellow World Cup winner Henry, the 2000-01 Premier League Player of The Year moved to Arsenal under Wenger after a tough spell in Italy with Milan.

He would go on to make 307 Premier League appearances, 279 of those at Arsenal before his career was bookended by a short spell at Manchester City.

Vieira may not have been the same player at the Etihad but his influence in instilling the right mentality in a newly-built squad set the club up and he is currently looking to do something similar with his young squad as manager of Crystal Palace.

2) David Ginola (Newcastle 1995-97, Tottenham 1997-2000, Aston Villa 2000-2002 and Everton 2002)

Without wanting to sound self-indulgent, David Ginola is arguably the best player this writer has ever seen live having watched him tear Bradford apart while playing for Tottenham in 1999.

It was at Spurs where Ginola played his best football, winning the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year for 1998-99 and it was a shame to see his career somewhat peter out at first Aston Villa and then Everton.

The winger’s first club in England was Newcastle, signing in 1995 and soon becoming a key part of Kevin Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’.

Like Cantona, his mercurial talents were not always appreciated by the national side but he will be forever be adored by the fans of the Magpies and the Lilywhites.

1) N’Golo Kante (Leicester 2015-2016, Chelsea 2016-)

Finally, and while he may not be as skilful as the likes of Robert Pires or Nicolas Anelka, or as revolutionary as Claude Makelele, N’Golo Kante more than deserves his place on this list.

The old joke that Leicester won the title with 12 men on the field due to his incredible energy rings true when watching him for Chelsea six years later.

However, Kante is far from a one-trick pony and his ability to move the ball quickly, and even pop up with the odd goal, make him vital to Thomas Tuchel’s plans.

The now 30-year-old was also crucial in France’s success at the 2018 World Cup, combining with the equally brilliant Blaise Matuidi to provide the defensive diligence required to mask the indiscipline of those in front of them.

Kante joined the Foxes for just £5.6m in 2015 and was sold to Chelsea for more than five times as much 12 months later. He may not be as flashy as others on this list, but the Parisian may be the player who has represented the best value for money in the Premier League’s history.

The first choice in any quiz team, Jack is your man for stats, facts and information across a wide range of different sports. As well as a vast knowledge of football, he specialises in cycling, rugby and tennis amongst a number of other sports.
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