The nineties were a golden age. Oasis told Sally she can wait, Tony Blair promised new hope for Britain’s 20-somethings, Dolly the sheep became Dolly the sheeps, friends happened. But possibly the most notable was the arrival of an unknown manager from France. Upon his appointment, the Evening Standard printed on the front page “Arsène Who?”. Fifteen years later and the daily supplement to the southern Antarctic wouldn’t run the same headline.
Wenger was essentially the catalyst for a swarm of French players boarding Brittany Ferries to enter the Premier League. He helped farm the ‘golden generation’ of French football, a group that went on to dominate the international scene over the turn of the century.
Compiled here are the crème de la crème of French talent to have the graced the game’s greatest league.
GK. Fabien Barthez – Any goalkeeper that replaces Peter Schmeichel and grabs more headlines than his predecessor has to make it to the top of most lists. Despite perhaps too many of these headlines being for the wrong reasons (I’m sure Paulo Di Canio could happily tell you one), there is no doubting that he was a true great of French football.
LB. Patrice Evra – A shining advert for the new breed of full backs where attacking prowess is almost as important as defensive solidity. He has equalled and built upon the reputation left behind by Gabriel Heinzè and has been a key figure in Manchester United’s continued dominance.
CB. Marcell Desailly – Will sadly be remembered by many as the subject of Ron Atkinson’s racist rant as opposed to being one of the finest defenders of the modern era. At one time he held the record of most capped player for France at 116 appearances. A true hero of Stamford Bridge.
CB. Willam Gallas – Another player who seems to have forged more of a reputation through controversy than through actions during the 90 minutes. However, fans of Chelsea, Arsenal and now Tottenham all hold him in high regard as a classy centre half.
RB. Laurent Blanc – Who else is going to kiss Barthez’s head?! Built in the mould of the 1960’s breed of defenders, Blanc was an imposing figure on United’s back line, seeing out his twilight years with the champions.
LM. Robert Pires – The first of Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ to make it on to the list. The definition of flair, spending six of Arsenal’s most successful years at the club. Always popping up with a goal when arsenal needed it most.
CM. Claude Makélélé – The unsung hero of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea tenure. Virtually created the defensive midfield position, now referred to as “The Makélélé role”.
CM. Patrick Viera – Probably the second best central midfielder the Premiership has ever seen (Scholes still holds that mantle). The first of the influx of French players in to the Arsenal team upon Wenger’s appointment.
RM. David Ginola – The epitome of French football. He lit up stadiums across the country with his slick, entertaining playing style. Nicknamed “David Copperfield” by supporters on Tyneside for his ability to conjure up magic.
ST. Thierry Henry – Now we’re come to the top of football’s Tour de Eiffel. Arsenal’s all time leading scorer with 226 goals. Twice FIFA World Player of the Year. At his prime he would’ve strolled into and all over any team in football. Any Arsenal fan will tell you that Mr. Va Va Voom is one of the best front men to have played the game, and I would have to agree with them.
ST. Eric Cantona – The man that started the revolution. He revived Manchester United back to the footballing force they are. His career is dotted with poor discipline and karate kicks alike, with these incidents moulding him into the icon he is today. He will hold an eternal legacy at Old Trafford.
Despite a severe blow to the ‘joie de vivre’ of French football in South Africa last year, the 90’s trend looks set to re-emerge as players such as Samir Nasri, Abou Diabe and Bacary Sagna continue to flourish in the Premier League upon Wenger’s guidance. Although England fans will pray they don’t flourish too much before June 11th next year…
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