The next destination of our alphabetical world tour is France. The current World Champions have a rich history of players in English football, and only England have produced more Premier League players than France.
According to the Premier League website, 212 players have represented France in the Premier League, including one man on the opening day of the very first season. You’ve probably heard of him.
First Player – Eric Cantona (Leeds, Man United; 1992-97).
Few players are as synonymous with the Premier League as Eric Cantona. It’s not hard to conjure an iconic image of Cantona in your mind, be that a kung fu kick aimed at a fan or a majestic celebration after running from the halfway line and chipping the goalkeeper against Sunderland.
Something about the Frenchman clicked as soon as he moved to England in January 1992. He won the title in his first half-season with Leeds United but moved to rivals Manchester United in November of the first Premier League and the rest is history.
In five seasons at Old Trafford, Cantona won four Premier League titles, only missing out in 1994/95 (incidentally, it was this campaign that Cantona missed a large part of due to his eight-month ban for his infamous assault of a fan).
Cantona was the only Frenchman to feature in the Premier League’s inaugural season, starting in Leeds’ opening day win over Wimbledon.
Most Appearances: Sylvain Distin – 469 (Newcastle, Man City, Portsmouth, Everton, Bournemouth; 2001-17)
Not the most famous Frenchman to have played in England, but defender Sylvain Distin holds the record for the most Premier League appearances of any player from France.
Distin initially moved to England in 2001, on loan at Newcastle from PSG. Though the Magpies wanted to sign him permanently in the summer, he instead opted to join Manchester City.
He swapped Manchester for Portsmouth in 2007, winning the FA Cup in his debut season, before moving to Everton in 2009. Distin retired at the end of the 2015/16 season after his first and only campaign with Bournemouth.
Distin made at least 27 appearances in every season from 2001/02 to 2013/14. His mammoth total of 469 Premier League appearances is the most of any non-British/Irish outfield player.
Top Scorer: Thierry Henry – 175 (Arsenal; 1999-2007, 2012)
Arsenal’s best ever player? That’s an argument for another day, but what’s not up for discussion is Henry’s record as the top-scoring Frenchman in Premier League history.
Henry’s 175 goals are 50 ahead of the next Frenchman (Nicolas Anelka, 125) and only Sergio Aguero has scored more of all non-English players. His 228 in all competitions for the Gunners is also a club record.
In his time in England, Henry won the Premier League and FA Cup twice each, as well as four golden boots. Though he never won the top prize, he finished second in the Ballon d’Or in 2003.
30 Frenchmen appeared in the Premier League before lockdown in 2019/20. 14 players have made 20 or more appearances, while Bournemouth and Burnley are the only clubs to have not fielded a single Frenchman last season.
- 27 French players have won the Premier League. Only England have had more Premier League winners (86).
- Thierry Henry is the top scorer in the history of the France national team (51 goals).
- Former Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly was the third player ever to receive a red card in a World Cup Final, doing so in 1998.
- 16 Frenchmen have scored a Premier League hat-trick. Only Sergio Aguero (12), Alan Shearer (11) and Robbie Fowler (9) have scored more than Thierry Henry (8).
- Eric Cantona scored the first hat-trick in the Premier League, in a 5-0 win for Leeds against Spurs on August 25th, 1992.