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Top 8 Ligue 1 Players in the History of the League

| December 4, 2020 12:20 pm PDT
Best Ligue 1 Players of All Time

Ligue 1 has been in existence since 1930, and for the best part of a century, France’s top division has been home to countless world-class stars.

PSG has dominated in recent years, with the capital club able to attract some of the best players on the planet. Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are among the current crop, but there has been an endless stream of icons before them.

Here is my top 8 for the best Ligue 1 players of all time.

Juninho Pernambucano

  • Lyon – 2001-2009 

The free-kick king!

After making a name for himself with Vasco, Juninho Pernambucano left his homeland to join Lyon in 2001. The Brazilian went on to win seven straight Ligue 1 titles between 2002 and 2008. Former teammate Gregory Coupet is the only other player to have achieved that feat.

Best known for his remarkable dead-ball technique, the midfielder was a massive threat from outside the penalty area. In fact, it could be argued that he is the greatest free-kick taker ever.

Juninho notched up a mightily impressive 100 goals and 72 assists in 343 appearances for Lyon, netting 44 of his 77 career free-kicks in France. David Beckham (65), Ronaldinho (66), and Pele (70) all came close, but to this day, nobody has been able to surpass Juninho’s free-kick record in professional soccer.

Zinedine Zidane

  • Cannes – 1989-1992
  • Bordeaux – 1992-1996 

Of course, Zinedine Zidane is most famous for his spells with Juventus and Real Madrid. Oh, and that headbutt on Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final. But before going on to clinch Serie A, La Liga, Champions League, and Ballon d’Or trophies, “Zizou” starred in Ligue 1.

Zidane made his Ligue 1 debut when he was just 17, and in his first full year with Cannes, he guided the Dragons to European qualification for the very first time in their history.

But it wasn’t long before one of France’s most prestigious clubs came calling. Bordeaux signed Zidane in 1992, and he quickly made the step-up from promising youngster to world-class star.

The midfielder developed his masterful touch and unstoppable dribbling ability during a four-year spell with Bordeaux, before going on to sign for Italian giant Juventus.

Despite winning a host of honors throughout his glittering career, Zidane never managed to clinch the Ligue 1 title. However, there is no denying that he is one of the greatest players ever to grace the French top flight.

Raymond Kopa

  • Angers – 1949-1951
  • Reims – 1951-1956, 1959-1967 

Widely considered to be one of the greatest attacking players that France has ever produced, Raymond Kopa spearheaded Reims’ famous title-winning teams of the 50s and 60s.

The gifted playmaker began his career with Angers, but it quickly became apparent that he was destined for bigger and better things.

During his first spell with the Red and Whites, Kopa guided the club to two Ligue 1 titles. However, his efforts didn’t go unnoticed. The creative midfielder was snapped up by Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid in 1956 and won three European Cups with the legendary Los Blancos side.

But Kopa returned to his homeland in 1959 and eventually clinched a further two Ligue 1 titles with Reims. He ended up making over 400 appearances for the Red and Whites, contributing countless important goals and assists along the way.

Reims has not had much to shout about in recent times, with their last title coming almost 60 years ago. But Kopa will never be forgotten.

Edinson Cavani 

  • PSG – 2013-2020

Edinson Cavani enjoyed seven hugely successful years with PSG, helping the club to win six Ligue 1 titles and nine domestic cups during his time in the French capital.

The Uruguayan cost the Parisians a whopping €64.5m when he joined from Napoli in 2013. But ask any PSG supporter, and I’m sure they will tell you that he was worth every cent.

 Midway through the 2017/18 campaign, Cavani became PSG’s all-time record goalscorer, surpassing Zlatan Ibrahimovic (we’ll get to him later) to become the club’s most successful marksman.

The striker played a total of 301 games in all competitions for PSG, netting a phenomenal 200 goals! And with a record of 138 goals in 200 Ligue 1 games, it was impossible for me to leave him out of this post.

Michel Platini 

  • Nancy – 1972-1979
  • Saint-Etienne – 1979-1982

In recent years, Michel Platini has not been a popular figure. As the president of UEFA, he was banned from soccer in 2015 due to ethics violations. But during his playing days, Platini was undoubtedly one of the star performers of his generation.

Platini started his career with Nancy and helped the club to become a regular fixture in France’s top division. He made a name for himself as a deadly midfield playmaker, using his expert vision and inch-perfect passing to both create and score goals.

After establishing himself as one of the best players in Europe, Platini was signed by Saint-Etienne in 1979. The Greens were arguably the country’s strongest team back then, and after four seasons without a title triumph, Platini guided the club to Ligue 1 glory in 1980/81.

He didn’t hang around for long, however, with Juventus signing the midfield maestro the following year. Platini went on to claim three straight Ballon d’Ors between 1983 and 1985, although fans of French soccer will always remember him for his decade in Ligue 1.

Just Fontaine

  • Nice – 1953-1956
  • Reims – 1956-1962

Unfortunately, a recurring injury forced Just Fontaine to retire when he was just 28. Still, the striker achieved more than enough in his short career to be viewed as one of the best Ligue 1 players of all time.

Most soccer fans will be well aware of Fontaine’s 13-goal haul at the 1958 World Cup. To this day, no player has scored more goals in a single edition of the competition. But his domestic achievements are often overlooked.

Considering that he scored 165 goals in 200 Ligue 1 appearances, I believe he definitely deserves mention.

After guiding Nice to the top-flight title in 1955/56, Fontaine joined Reims, just as Kopa was heading to Madrid. But despite his departure, Fontaine was able to help the Red and Whites win Ligue 1 in 1957/58, before teaming up with the returning Kopa to clinch a further two titles.

Widely regarded as one of France’s most prolific goalscorers, Fontaine is a certified Ligue 1 legend.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

  • PSG – 2012-2016

Zlatan Ibrahimovic only spent four years at PSG, but that was more than enough time for him to overtake Pauleta as the club’s leading goalscorer. Of course, Cavani eventually surpassed the Swede, but nobody can argue that Zlatan doesn’t deserve a place on this list.

Overall, the lethal striker bagged a stupendous 156 goals in 180 appearances for PSG. That’s an average of a goal every 1.15 games! Let’s not forget that he also contributed 60 assists for good measure.

Zlatan won the Ligue 1 Golden Boot three times, netting 38 goals in 31 league games in his final season in Paris. The enigmatic striker has always scored at a frightening rate throughout his career, although his time with PSG was especially fruitful.

It could be argued that Zlatan was almost too good for Ligue 1 at times. Having previous played for the likes of Barcelona and AC Milan, he bullied opposition defenses during his time in France and humiliated defenders on countless occasions.

Even at the ripe old age of 39, the self-proclaimed “Lion” is still banging in goals for Milan.

Jean-Pierre Papin

  • Valenciennes – 1984-1985
  • Marseille – 1986-1992
  • Bordeaux – 1996-1998
  • Guingamp – 1998-1999 

There was a time when Jean-Pierre Papin was one of the most feared attacking players on the planet.

After starting his career with shorts spells at Valenciennes and Club Brugge, Papin’s performances earned him a breakthrough transfer to Marseille. The striker went on to etch his name into OM folklore.

Papin helped Marseille to secure four straight top-flight titles, yet his personal achievements were even greater. He secured five consecutive Ligue 1 Golden Boot awards, eventually finishing with 175 goals in 266 games. A Ballon d’Or triumph in 1991 was the icing on the cake.

It’s fair to say that Papin was not a conventional striker. He was famed for his outrageous acrobatics and his willingness to shoot from almost any position on the pitch. But his quirks were what made him so special.

Papin enjoyed stints with AC Milan and Bayern Munich before returning to France for spells with Bordeaux and Guingamp. However, he will always be remembered for his heroics at Stade Velodrome.

Closing Thoughts

I know what you’re thinking. Where is Ronaldinho? And what about Thierry Henry?

Ultimately, I could have picked hundreds of players for this post. But I chose to feature players who made the biggest impact on Ligue 1, instead of players who only spent a couple of years in France’s top division.

Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section below. Also, why not head over to our soccer picks section for free betting tips and predictions for multiple worldwide leagues?

Ben Morris
Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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