Not many countries can boast more legendary footballers from the past 30 years than France – a nation that seems to produce classy players like it’s the easiest thing in the world.
The Premier League may not have been blessed with the presence of Zinedine Zidane or Kylian Mbappe (yet) but with Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Eric Cantona all performing in the top-flight, there has still been plenty of French talent on display.
But not every French player to grace the Premier League ends their career with legend status. In fact, most don’t.
Here, we take a look at some of the weirdest French signings in the league’s history.
13. David Terrier
Aside from having a name that sounds like it’s from the mind of Bob Mortimer, Terrier is also famous for making just one appearance for West Ham.
The defender made the move from Metz in 1997 and replaced Paul Kitson in an away win against Barnsley. That’s it.
12. Valerien Ismael
The current West Brom manager was once Crystal Palace’s record signing. Ismael made his name with Strasbourg in Ligue 1, his hometown club, and his form persuaded Steve Coppell to bring him in.
However, he only hung around for 10 months and made just 13 appearances, escaping to Lens in October 1998 after the Eagles were relegated. No bang for Palace’s buck here.
11. Philippe Christanval
Christanval failed a trial with Arsenal before signing for Fulham, having previously represented France at the 2002 World Cup.
Chris Coleman decided to tempt fate straight away, talking up the centre-back’s potential long-term impact at Craven Cottage: “He can be captain for the next five years if he shows the same consistency and level of performance.”
That is not what happened. In fact, within the next five years, Christanval had retired from football entirely. After making just one appearance in his second campaign in west London, the Frenchman was offered a trial with Blackburn Rovers but announced his retirement in 2009 without playing a game more.
10. Pegguy Arphexad
Arphexad impressed during his time with Leicester City, but was always going to play second fiddle to Tim Flowers between the sticks.
Thankfully a stunning display against Liverpool – one that ultimately cost the Reds a spot in the Champions League – earned him a move away… to Liverpool.
Yep, that’s right. Gerard Houllier would have been forgiven for holding a grudge against the ‘keeper but instead chose to poach him. He made just two Premier League appearances but left Merseyside with six winners medals to his name. Well played, Pegguy.
9. Bruno Cheyrou
He may be a Liverpool legend, but it is Houllier’s fault that Cheyrou has made this list.
“To me, Bruno has some of the attributes of Zinedine Zidane, he has his ability to pick a pass, and moves a little like him,” the Reds boss said of his new acquisition in 2002.
“Zidane is 29 and at the very peak of his game, while Bruno is just a youngster, and is still very much learning, especially about English football.”
No pressure then. Cue just five goals in two seasons. Regardless, the amount of good Houllier did for Liverpool is undeniable.
8. Damien Plessis
Rafa Benitez was very excited to have secured the services of Plessis for Liverpool in 2007, but in three years at Anfield, he would make just three appearances. Not quite the impact Benitez expected.
“He is a good player, big and strong, and we’re sure he’ll do well for us. He’s only a young boy with plenty of time to work on his game but it depends on his progress how quickly he can force his way into the first team,” the boss said of his new recruit.
So we can assume he did not progress very quickly.
7. Jean-Alain Boumsong
Controversy followed the centre-back into St James’ Park in 2005 from Rangers, manager Graeme Souness facing a corruption inquest over the deal two years later. £8million was paid for the Frenchman despite him being out of contract at the time of signing.
“There remains inconsistencies in evidence provided by Graeme Souness – a former manager of the club – and Freddy Shepherd – apparently acting in an undefined role but not as a club official – as to their respective roles in transfer negotiations,” the Stevens Inquiry read at the time.
He left the North East after just one season, but will live long in the memory for that time he nearly got Souness indirectly arrested. Iconic.
6. Olivier Dacourt
Dacourt’s time in England was strange, to say the least. He initially moved to Everton, some industrious midfield displays making him a fan favourite at Goodison Park.
But it was with Leeds that Dacourt had his weirdest time. For months he was a regular in David O’Leary’s midfield, himself and David Batty proving a strong duo in the club’s run to the Champions League semi-finals. But following Terry Venables’ appointment, things quickly unravelled.
After some ill-judged comments before a 1-0 loss to Fulham, Venables tore into the midfielder in an interview with The News of the World.
“I think his timing speaks volumes about the kind of person he is. Dacourt claims he loves England – well, let me tell you this: he’s been engineering to find a way out for the last 12 months and that includes the period when David O’Leary was manager here as well,” the former Leeds boss said.
“He says he’s been sat in the stands with no idea what his future is, claiming I’ve dropped him without an explanation and that his contact with me is distant. Well, I would like to say here and now that he knows exactly what I think of him.”
And those links with a move to Italy? “If he wants to go to Italy – and if someone is interested – I will personally drive him there,” Venables said.
5. Lionel Perez
For some reason, Perez thought it would be a good idea to leave Sunderland, where he played semi-regularly, to become Newcastle’s fourth-choice goalkeeper.
After 21 months, he came to the conclusion that it was in fact not a good idea either. The club granted him a free transfer and Perez reportedly took a 95% paycut to join League Two side Cambridge United.
Roy McFarland, the U’s manager at the time, describe him as “the best signing I have ever made.” Newcastle would disagree.
There is no doubt his most iconic moment remains being completely mugged off by Cantona.
Eric Cantona is No. 1 trend in the UK (just don’t look at his Instagram account 😳) and Lionel Pérez celebrates his 52nd birthday today (Bon anniversaire 🎂)…
— 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐑𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐦𝐚𝐧𝐬 𝐘𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐬 (@RothmansYears) April 24, 2019
4. William Prunier
Poor, poor Prunier. After graduating through the Auxerre academy alongside Eric Cantona, Vasile Boli and Daniel Dutuel, it is no surprise that hype started to grow around Prunier.
Marseille signed the centre-back only to be relegated after being found guilty of match-fixing, so he moved to Bordeaux and played alongside Zinedine Zidane.
His arrival at Manchester United just happened to coincide with an awful injury crisis, thrusting Prunier straight into the starting XI where he struggled in a makeshift backline.
Voting him the club’s sixth-worst player of all time was a bit much though, wasn’t it?
3. Lilian Laslandes
Peter Reid persuaded Sunderland to part with £3.6million for the French striker in 2001, and Laslandes arrived in the North East with a lot of hype attached to him.
But could he live up to it? Well, would he be on this list if so? The marksman found the net 47 times in 119 appearances for Bordeaux but he never got near those levels at the Stadium of Light.
After just half a season his relationship with Reid had broken down completely and he was loaned out to FC Koln in the January transfer window, leading to Sunderland fans employing the nickname “Landesliga”.
On his return, Laslandes was determined to leave but the Black Cats would not let him go for cheap. This lead to the 30-year-old threatening to quit as a professional entirely: “If, on August 31, I am still at Sunderland, I will probably change my mind and I could decide to sign on with a little amateur club in my area.”
2. Sébastien Schemmel
Schemmel caught the eye of Harry Redknapp during the manager’s time with West Ham – but it is hard to figure out why.
The Frenchman was dropped by Metz in 2000 after he insulted two journalists, leading club president Carlo Molinari to give him a glowing reference, describing Schemmel as “phenomenally unstable”.
But Redknapp persisted with the loan deal. What is so weird about this transfer, is that it worked out relatively well!
The phenomenally unstable defender won West Ham’s Player of the Season award for the 2001-02 campaign and made over 60 appearances across two seasons. None of you saw that coming, did you?
1. Mickaël Madar
Madar arrived in 1997 as Howard Kendall fought to save the Toffees from relegation and the Frenchman loved playing under him.
“I smoked on the bus with Howard Kendall, with my manager. It was crazy,” he told the club’s official programme in 2019.
“It was the English mentality 20 years ago; you could drink, or smoke, or go out, if you were good on the pitch. With Howard, it was like that. It was brilliant.”
But there was another side to Madar and it came out after Kendall was sacked, replaced by Walter Smith who did not give the striker a squad number for the coming season. This caused him to assault a Louis Vuitton bag.
“The toilet bag came flying past my face as I was about to walk through Bellefield’s entrance door in the summer of 1998. Madar quickly followed. Then proceeded to kick the bag around the car park,” The Liverpool Echo’s David Prentice recalled.
He left Goodison Park with just six goals and 19 appearances to his name. But what an impact he made.