During its 91-year history, Ligue 1 has seen many great players but let’s see who are the best Ligue 1 players of all time?!
With the recent reemergence of Ligue 1 as one of the best European football leagues and the attention that teams like PSG, Monaco and Lyon have brought to the league by both attracting world class players and also being successful in the European front and reaching the latter stages of Champions League, many football fans want to learn more about the competition’s history and its greatest players to see who actually are the best Ligue 1 players of all time.
The thing with Ligue 1 is that it’s actually the greatest platform for developing players, even as far back as players like Michel Platini and later Zidane who developed to be great players in Ligue 1 and then went on to be world class players abroad. So as a result Ligue 1 has had some of the world’s best ever players take part in it but players who actually impacted the league are a different matter entirely which we will take a look at here. So without further ado let’s see who is on our list:
You may be wondering why players like Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry or Trezeguet are not on this list. It’s because we have tried to actually pick the players that had long and impactful careers in the Ligue 1 itself rather than being great abroad, so here are the best Ligue 1 footballers of all time:
The Tarzan is the most recent addition to our list of best Ligue 1 footballers of all time since the Uruguayan has only left the league as recently as last summer to seek his fortunes in the Premier League. Throughout his career Cavani has become one of the greatest finishers of the last decade and his time in France was no different, where he became one of the most decorated players the Ligue 1 has ever seen. Although at first he was in Zlatan’s shadow at PSG, after Zlatan’s departure Cavani showed his true potential as a world class finisher.
After establishing himself in Italy with Palermo and especially Napoli, where he scored an incredible amount of 104 goals in just 138 matches, Cavani was ready for the next big move and PSG came calling. He joined PSG in the 2013 in a deal that cost them around €64.5 million, which at the time was the most expensive signing in French football history and but it would soon prove a smart move by PSG.
As we previously mentioned, Cavani’s first seasons coincided with Zlatan’s last at PSG and the two competed for goals so naturally Cavani’s numbers weren’t that high, although he did score 81 goals in his first 3 season. But after Zlatan’s departure his numbers got even more impressive and he ended his time at PSG with 200 goals in 301 matches. He was also named Ligue 1 Top Goal Scorer on two occasions, 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, with the 2016-17 season being his best as he scored 49 goals in 50 matches in all competitions.
Edinson Cavani managed to win 6 Ligue 1 titles, 5 Coupe de France and 4 Coupe de la Ligue, becoming PSG’s all-time top scorer and one of the best Ligue 1 players of all time. He ended up leaving the French club last summer to join Manchester United on a free transfer.
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‘…And on the seventh day Zlatan came to Ligue 1 to grace the league with his brilliance’ or some dramatic nonsense like that which Zlatan likes to joke about. But joking aside, transfer of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from AC Milan to PSG in 2012 was actually a turning point for the league as a star of his caliber brought much attention to Ligue 1 and helped generate a lot more fans for the league. His achievements and status as one of the greatest modern football players is known to any football fan and he is certainly one of the best footballers in Ligue 1 history.
After playing for several giants of European football and on the back of winning the Serie A with AC Milan in 2010-11 season and having a great season in 2011-12 with the Milan side, Zlatan came to the Ligue 1 to help PSG rise to the heights that their new owners aspired to. The deal turned out to be a great one for both the club and the player since he absolutely dominated the French league and rose to the top of the footballing world with his goals.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic managed to score an incredible amount of 156 goals in 180 matches for PSG in all competitions, 113 of which were scored in Ligue 1 alone. Although Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn’t help PSG achieve any European glory, he did however lead them to 4 Ligue 1, 3 Coupe de la Ligue and 2 Coupe de France trophies and helped the Ligue 1 be an exciting competition once again which attracted many fans worldwide, in part due to Zlatan’s star power. Because of this and the impact he had for PSG on the pitch he will always be remembered as one of the best Ligue 1 players of all time.
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The King of Free-kicks is actually one of the most underrated Brazilian players, perhaps because he played in one of the best eras of Brazilian football that had many great players like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo. So his achievements as one of the greatest Ligue 1 players of all time goes unnoticed. But lately with the emergence of Ligue 1 as one of the best leagues in Europe he is being more appreciated.
As far as Juninho’s playing style goes, he was a capable attacking midfielder who could drop deeper or even play as a second striker at times, capable of creating many chances with his great passing skills. He was the master of dead-ball delivery, whether it was from a free kick or a corner. He developed a technique now known as the knuckleball, which players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Drogba and De Bruyne use in their free kick delivery. The technique is extremely hard to master and no one could do it quite the way Juninho did, which allowed him to score from seemingly anywhere on the pitch.
Juninho Pernambucano alongside, Sydney Guvou and Gregory Coupet are the only individuals that have won the French league 7 times and hold the record for the most amount of titles won. What is even more impressive is the fact that all 7 of those trophies were consecutively won, in large part because of Juninho’s influence in that great Lyon side.
He also won a Coupe de France in the 2007-08 season. All in all Juninho played 343 matches in all competitions and scored 100 goals, 75 of which were in Ligue 1, and he deservedly gets a nod as one of the best Ligue 1 players of all time.
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Considered to be one of the greatest football players of all time, Zizou played in 3 separate leagues and countries and he is considered to be one of the best ever in each of those leagues as is the case with him being one of the greatest players in French Ligue 1 history. Zidane has done it all and won it all when it comes to football. He helped elevate French football to another level and lead his country’s Golden generation to 2 World Cup Finals and a Euro Final. Although his best years were abroad, his formative years where he established himself as a future star was in Ligue 1.
Zinedine Zidane, who is a native of Marseille and supports the locale club, actually started his career elsewhere at Cannes where after a short trial he ended up playing for them for 4 years establishing himself as a great talent and helped Cannes reach its first European competition in his first full season at the club before he joined Bordeaux at the age of 20.
At Bordeaux, Zidane teamed up with Cristophe Dugarry and Bixentte Lizarazu to bring Bordeaux much success. A team up that was also seen in the French national team. Zidane helped Bordeaux reach a couple of finals, including the 1995 Intertoto Cup which they won and the UEFA cup in the same season which they lost to Bayern Munich.
Despite some interests from the English teams, thankfully Zidane opted to move to Italy and would eventually win the Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the Year numerous times but despite his lack of important silverware in his time in France he still became one of the best Ligue 1 players of all time and the best French player of all time!
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Considered to be one of the best central defenders of all time as well as being one of the highest goal scoring defenders ever, Laurent Blanc spent the most of his career at Ligue 1 at various clubs including Montpellier, Auxerre and Marseille. He did however spend several seasons at Barcelona, Inter Milan and finally finished his career as a footballer in Manchester United in 2003 but it was in Ligue 1 that he became the player he is known today and establish himself as one of the greatest players in French Ligue 1 history.
Although originally an attacking midfielder, his move to defense proved quite effective as he became one of the best and still maintained his skills as a midfielder which would help him be an effective ball playing center back. However, he is perhaps more known for his ability to score goals as a defender as Blanc managed to score an impressive amount of 154 goals for club and country at senior level. Blanc managed to score more than 10 goals a season on 6 occasions, his personal best was the 1986-87 at Montpellier where he scored 18 goals!
Le President spent 14 of his 20 professional seasons as a footballer playing for Montpellier, Nimes, Saint-Etienne, Auxerre and Marseille, winning the Coupe de France twice, once with Montpellier and once with Auxerre and his solitary Ligue 1 title winning season came in 1995-96 season where he lifted the tophy with Auxerre. Despite the lack of silverware at the club level, Blanc was highly influential on the younger players of his era and ended up winning both the 98 World Cup and Euro 2000 with France which is why he is regarded as one of the best Ligue 1 players of all time.
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Winning a Ballon d’Or is a rare achievement for any player but winning it 3 times has happened to only a handful of players and the great Michel Platini is one of them. Considered to be one of the greatest of all time, Platini went on to have a great career abroad but it was first in the French league, at Nancy and St. Ettiene, that he became the player he is known today and one of the best ever French Ligue 1 footballers. Platini spent a decade of his professional career in Ligue 1.
Platini’s career in France started with him playing for the AS Jœuf at youth levels before joining AS Nancy in 1972. There he helped the side become a Ligue 1 (back then known as the Division 1) side, despite being relegated with them once early on. He grew as a player and became a household name in French football, finally leading Nancy to a Coupe de France title in the 1977-78 season before joining then Ligue 1 title contenders Saint-Etienne.
Saint-Etienne recruited Platini to help them mount a European Cup challenge (now known as Champions League) but despite them failing to do so in Platini’s time there, Platini never ceased to amaze as he consistently scored more than 25 goals a season in his three seasons at the club, managing to score 82 goals in 135 matches for Saint-Etienne, all the while being only a midfielder.
Platini did finally manage to lead Saint-Etienne to a Ligue 1 title in 1980-81 season before he left for Juventus to take his game to a whole new level. The legacy he left at Ligue 1 makes him one of the best Ligue 1 players of all time.
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A legend in World Cup history, Just Fontaine managed to score an unbelievable 13 goals in the 1958 World Cup, a record that is unlikely to be broken anytime soon if ever. Fontaine was as good at club level too, where he played for Nice and Reims during the 50s and 60s. the Marrakechi born striker, from a French father and a Spanish mother, started his relatively short career at USM Casablanca before moving to Nice in Ligue 1 where he eventually became one of the best Ligue 1 footballers of all time.
Fontaine was the definition of a prolific striker, he showed that in USM Casablanca where he scored 62 goals in 48 matches before joining the French side Nice in 1953 where he once again showed his goal scoring prowess netting 43 in 69 matches which eventually got him a move to Stade de Reims, who were the biggest French club back then, having appeared in the final of the first European Cup ever just a season before Fontaine joined them.
There, Fontaine were brought in to replace another legendary French player Raymond Kopa, who is also on our list of greatest Ligue 1 players of all time and had just left for Real Madrid, but the two later would team up and lead Stade de Reims to further glory as they helped the club win 4 Ligue 1 titles, 2 Coupe de France and a European Cup final appearance in the 1958-59 season but once again Reims fell short of winning the cup against Real Madrid.
Fontaine played 131 matches for Stade de Reims and scored 122 goals. His record for the French national team was even more impressive as he scored 30 goals in only 21 matches for the les Bleus which shows the sheer amount of talent that he had. Sadly, his career was cut short by injuries and he retired from football at the age of 28. But even in the relative short time that he had in France, Fontaine became one of the best Ligue 1 players of all time and his legacy lives on today.
Jean-Pierre Papin was an artist when it came to scoring goals as the Frenchmen rarely scored a goal that wasn’t beautiful to watch. Volleys, bicycle kicks, headers and long range goals, Papin could score them all and he regularly chose to score spectacularly rather than scoring a normal goal. Throughout his career Papin played for 8 differen teams, most of which were in France but he did have spells at Bayern Munich and AC Milan. Although he didn’t replicate the success that he had at Marseille, where he became one of the greatest Ligue 1 players of all time, outside France.
Jean-Pierre Papin started his career at Ligue 2 with Valencinnes and after a great season he moved to the Belgian side, Club Brugge in 1985. There he started to show his talents as a lethal finisher and after only a season, in which he scored 32 goals, Papin moved back to France to join Marseille. It was at Marseille that Papin reached the heights that Ligue 1 players could dream of. Papin’s goals meant that Marseille were champions of France 4 times in a row with him scoring more than 30 goals in each of those seasons.
They also reached the European Cup final in 1991 but lost on penalties. Papin would later join AC Milan but despite his successful time there he could never adapt and be at the levels he was in Marseille. In a strange turn of events, he ended up playing against Marseille in the Champions League Final and lost to his old team but he finally won the competition with Milan in the following season. Spells at Bayern Munich, Bordeaux and Guingamp followed before his retirement.
During his time with Marseille, Jean Pierre Papin became the Ligue 1 top scorer 5 times consecutively and he won the Ballon d’Or in 1991. He is the only player to win the prestigious award while playing in a Ligue 1 team which alongside his achievements listed above certainly makes him one of the best Ligue 1 players of all time.
You know you have left your mark on the world when there is a trophy named after you, which is exactly what happened to the late French football legend Raymond Kopa. An attacking midfielder by trade, Kopa played for 2 different teams in France, Angers and Stade de Reims, in addition to spending 3 seasons with Real Madrid who at the time were in the height of their powers. Kopa was the first French Ballon d’Or winner and certainly one of the best footballers in Ligue 1 history.
Nicknamed the Little Napoleon, Raymond Kopa started his career in Ligue 2 with Angers, where he stayed for two seasons before moving to Reims, where he helped create one of the strongest teams in Europe which reached the first ever European Cup but they lost the game and Kopa decided to later join Real Madrid in 1956 and spent 3 seasons with. the Spanish Giants, winning 3 back to back European Cups, one of which were against his former club Reims who now had Fontaine as their star player.
After his highly successful time with Real Madrid, Kopa came back to Ligue 1 and Stade de Reims once again in 1959 and stayed there until his retirement. Kopa managed to score 75 goals in 346 Ligue 1 matches and alongside Fontaine became one of the first ever French superstars, that impacted the Ligue 1 for years to come and became one of the best Ligue 1 players of all time.
After his passing in 2017 at the age of 85, a trophy was named after him which is given to the best player under the age of 21 and fittingly Kylian Mbappe, another Frenchman, was the first player to win it.