We continue our international all-time best eleven series, by moving on from Brazil, and heading over to Europe to tackle and equally hard task with the French. Creating arguably the two best attacking midfielders of all time, it was a real challenge to fit them all in. Add to that some amazing defenders and magical front men, the task we are faced with is a very difficult one. As before our selection is based on club success, international achievements and as always our personal favourites at IRZ head office. We decided on a 3-5-2 formation.
GK- Fabien Barthez
Many football fans will think of him as a blunder prone keeper, who flattered to deceive. It may have been the case later in his career, and he was definitely eccentric, but the honours won within his club career where numerous.
His real stand out moments came for Les Blues though. A World cup winner and then European Championship winner two years later, Barthez conceded just 2 goals in 7 appearances at the 1998 tournament, and holds the record joint record for most World Cup clean sheets. He is a double winner of the European goalkeeper of the year award also.
CB- Lilian Thuram
The most capped player in French history only had two goals to match his 142 caps, but they both came in the crucial 1998 world Cup semi-final.
He lead the golden era of French football and took part in an amazing 8 major international tournaments, taking a key role right up till his retirement, and produced another semi-final master class when he picked up the man of the match award in 2006, 8 years after his semi-final heroics in 1998.
CB- Laurent Blanc
The man who kissed Barthez’s chrome dome for good luck, Blanc should not be remembered for his poor form at Manchester Utd. He actually retired from the international scene in 1994, but was soon convinced to lead the young golden generation as one of its key pillars.
His no nonsense approach was the perfect foil for the athletic powerhouse that played alongside him during the success in 1998 and 2000, and that man was…
…Desailly. A true athlete on the pitch he had frightening pace and immense power, giving forwards the types of problems they were meant to give him. Having started his career in midfield he was more than capable on the ball, and could burst from the back and join in with attacking moves. He always had the awareness and stamina to fill back in quickly though if the ball was lost.
The third most capped Frenchman of all time, his sending of in the 1998 Final should not diminish his huge contributions to the success in that tournament.
CM- Patrick Vieira
Over 100 caps, two major tournament successes, and a poster boy for the golden generation, this would be enough to get him in our team. Then add the fact he is one of the greatest premier league players of all time, a three time Premier league winner and captain of the invincibles, his CV is complete.
A mix of athleticism and gifted technical ability, he is the type of player Arsenal are dearly missing today, and somebody who you could compare to Paul Pogba in the current French set up.
CM- Didier Deshcamps
He pips Claude Makelele into this side based purely on the fact that he starred in French footballs greatest hours on the international stage. Claude missed out due to the quality of men ahead of him during the golden generation where Deschamps captained it.
Described by Eric Cantona as a “water carrier” he was crucial to allowing the majestic talents ahead of him to thrive. As well as protecting an already rock solid back four that gave away nothing during the back to back tournament wins in 1998 and 2000. Another man in France’s 100 cap club.
LAM- Raymond Kopa
This man may not be well known to some of our younger readers, but he combines international success with club football domination. Named young players of the tournament in 1954 world cup, and then going on to win player of the tournament in 1958 (a feat never matched to this day) fighting off the likes of Garrincha and Pele. See our Brazil 11 to realise just how impressive that is.
A silky dribbler with an eye for goal, he would have surely been a World Cup winner was it not for the Brazilian brilliance of that era. He was part of the Real Madrid Juggernaut in the 1950′s, winning Three European cups during that time. Kopa also placed in the top three of the Ballon d’or for 4 consecutive years between 56-59 winning the award in 1958.
CAM- Zinedine Zidane
The greatest footballer I had ever seen until Messi came along, everything Zizou did looked effortless. He was grace personified and his touch, vision and technique is yet to be matched in my eyes, He could have probably been much more, which is an odd thing to say for one of the all-time greats, but he was a natural talent, as opposed to somebody who worked at his game tirelessly.
Despite his infamous act with his head in the 2006 final, he should be more remembered for his brilliant header in the 1998 world cup final. He went out of the international scene and football all together, with a World Cup player of the tournament award.
At club level he was a top performer for both Juventus and the galacticos of Real Madrid, he won three World Player of the year awards and a Champions League. Zidane is one of the greatest of all time, and one of my all time favourite players to watch. His career has the biggest honours in the game, yet his ability deserved multiple World Cups and Champions Leagues. One of each is not enough for the great man. 108 caps yielded 31 goals.
RAM- Michel Platini
If it is a crime that Zizou only won one world cup, it is equally insane that Platini won none! A semi-finalist in 82 and 86, his best moment was at the 1984 European Championships. He scored two hat tricks on the way to banging in 9 goals, and won player of the tournament helping the French people celebrate their first international tournament victory.
A fantastic goalscorer from midfield, he was a free kick and penalty specialist, as well as a pin point passer, who laid on as many goals as he scored. He won the Ballon dor three times, showing just how high his levels of performance where for both Juventus and the French national side.
ST- Thierry Henry
One of the Premier Leagues greatest ever players, he shared all the successes Patrick Vieira did with Arsenal on the club football scene. Including multiple Premier league winners medals and Champions League success once he moved on to Barcelona.
He was an impact sub on the way to winning his world Cup medal in 1998, showing some promising signs as a youngster, and was more of a fixture in the 200 European Championship success. He is the second most capped French player of all time, and their record goalscorer. Hopefully he will be remembered for all the great things he achieved in the Blue shirt and not that handball against Ireland in the World Cup Qualifying play off.
ST- Just Fontaine
Fontaine may have only been capped 21 times for his country, but he managed an amazing 30 goals in that time, and scored 13 goals during just one World Cup in 1958, being supplied by Raymond Kopa. Only Gerd Muller, Ronaldo and Miroslav Klose have more world Cup goals, and they all played in multiple tournaments. His Four goals against then champions West Germany was a legendary world Cup performance and may be the best of all time.
He scored an amazing 259 goals in just 283 appearances during his career, which garnered 4 league titles during his time in French football. Fontaine also has numerous top scorer awards for some of the game’s best tournaments, including the World Cup in 1958 and European Cup in 1958/59. He was forced to retire just after his 28th birthday due to injury, robbing football of one of its all-time great goalscorers.
This is our all-time best French 11, and the goals it offers is just insane, especially the goals from midfield with that attacking midfield trio. The stamina and athleticism of our defenders and Central midfield players should allow for our extremely attacking front 5. The likes of Jean Pierre Papain and Eric Cantona are extremely unlucky to miss out, the fact they fell just between two eras of International greatness for Les Blues leading to them just missing out.