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Rating the 12 French players to play for Manchester United

Raphael Varane is close to completing a move to Manchester United after the club agreed a deal with Real Madrid, the Red Devils having struck an agreement to sign the World Cup-winning centre-back from the Bernabeu.

Varane will be the latest amongst a long line of French players to have played for Manchester United during the Premier League era, albeit with varying degrees of success.

Ahead of the defender’s impending move to Old Trafford, we’ve decided to look back at each of the 12 French players to have represented Manchester United and assess their impact with the Red Devils:

Eric Cantona

Regarded by some as the greatest player in the history of Manchester United, it’s fair to say Eric Cantona made a major impact at Old Trafford after becoming the club’s first French import.

Signed from rivals Leeds, Cantona quickly became the centre-piece of Sir Alex Ferguson’s first great side, inspiring United to a first league title in 26 years as the club dominated the early seasons of the Premier League.

Colourful, charismatic and cock-sure, Cantona swaggered around Premier League stadiums with nonchalant brilliance, revelling in his responsibility as United’s main man and leading by example.

He won four league titles in five seasons, including two domestic doubles, whilst his status as the key figure in the league’s best side saw him recognised with the PFA Player’s Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year awards during an incredible United career.

Rating: 10/10

See also – Eric Cantona and how he made us feel

William Prunier

Prunier’s career at Manchester United lasted just a fortnight, though that brief spell was enough to see the defender once voted as the sixth-worst player in the club’s entire history.

The centre-back, a former teammate of Cantona’s at Bordeaux, joined the club on an initial trial basis but following an injury crisis in defence was thrust into the first-team spotlight.

Sir Alex Ferguson had hoped the one-cap France international could be the continental ball-playing defender he had craved, but those hopes were swiftly extinguished following a forgettable introduction to English football.

He enjoyed a solid debut against QPR, before an injury-ravaged United side were dismantled 4-1 at Tottenham. Prunier became the scapegoat for the loss and after only being offered a trial extension, rather than a contract, headed back to France after just two appearances.

Rating: 1/10

Mikael Silvestre

Silvestre moved to the Premier League after just a single season at Inter Milan and quickly became an important part of a Manchester United side which had just clinched the treble, an athletic defender who was equally comfortable centrally or at left-back.

The France international spent almost a decade at the club and proved a reliable performer throughout his nine-year spell, playing a regular role in four title-winning sides and winning seven major honours.

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His latter years at the club were blighted by injuries, though he claimed a Champions League winners medal in his final season before leaving for Arsenal, and is remembered fondly by the Old Trafford faithful.

Rating: 6/10

Fabien Barthez

Sir Alex Ferguson’s struggles to replace the departed Peter Schmeichel were well-documente, but the former Manchester United boss must have thought he had found the solution after signing Fabien Barthez from Monaco in 2000.

The goalkeeper had won the Champions League with Marseille in addition to World Cup and European Championship success with France, and initially began brightly during his time in the Premier League.

Barthez’s eccentric style – often taunting opposition strikers with daring dribbles and step-overs – saw the United fans warm to their new number one and he helped the side to title success during an impressive debut season.

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Despite winning a second Premier League crown two seasons later, Barthez often combined the brilliant with the bizarre and a series of high-profile mistakes blighted his time at Old Trafford, the experienced shot-stopper returning to former side Marseille in 2003.

Rating: 5/10

See also – Rating five Man United keepers Fergie failed to replace Peter Schmeichel with

Laurent Blanc

Another of France’s 1998 World Cup winning side arrived at Old Trafford the following season, with the experienced Laurent Blanc signing from Inter Milan as a replacement for Jaap Stam.

Stam had established himself as arguably the finest defender in the Premier League before his fall-out with Ferguson, and the ageing Blanc struggled to fill the considerable void left by the Dutchman’s departure.

The veteran was heavily criticised during a debut season that saw United suffer five league defeats by early December, the Red Devils surrendering their Premier League crown to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.

Blanc spent two seasons in English football and formed part of the side crowned champions in 2002/03 before retiring, a fine defender who was sadly past his peak during his Premier League career.

Rating: 4/10

David Bellion

Bellion signed for Manchester United in controversial circumstances after accusations of ‘tapping up’ from Sunderland, though the Red Devils may wish they had never bothered following a hugely underwhelming three-year spell for the forward in Manchester.

The France youth international failed to build on his initial promise and managed just four league goals for the club, failing to win a major trophy and later enduring a nomadic career that took in spells at the likes of West Ham, Nice and Red Star.

Rating: 2/10

Louis Saha

Louis Saha’s goalscoring exploits for Fulham convinced Sir Alex Ferguson that the French forward was the man to bolster his attacking options during the January transfer window of 2004, with the mid-season signing making an immediate impact at his new side.

Saha hit an impressive seven goals in just 12 league appearances over the second half of the season and despite later competition following the arrival of Wayne Rooney from Everton, formed an important part of the United side during a four-and-a-half-year spell.

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The France international scored 42 goals in all competitions and won two Premier League titles, in addition to forming part of the side crowned champions of Europe in his final campaign.

Saha proved a popular figure during his time at Old Trafford and formed a fine understanding with Rooney, the duo later fondly acknowledging one another as their preferred strike partners.

Rating: 7/10

Patrice Evra

Amongst the shrewdest investments of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United dynasty, Patrice Evra established himself as one of the Premier League’s greatest full-backs following a relatively unheralded move from Monaco.

Evra’s debut involved a difficult baptism of fire in the Manchester derby but he recovered to thrive in English football, winning nine honours including five Premier League titles and the Champions League.

Athletic and tenacious, Evra’s marauding style down the left-flank saw him become a hugely popular figure on the terraces, a status further increased by his extroverted passion for both life and ‘the game’.

He made 379 appearances in all competitions and was a mainstay of Ferguson’s last great side, a combative and committed performer who deserves his place amongst United’s fans’ favourites.

Ranking: 9/10

Gabriel Obertan

Gabriel Obertan arrived as a promising 20-year-old from Bordeaux on the recommendation of former United defender and compatriot Laurent Blanc, but any hopes the winger would flourish into a long-term replacement for the departed Cristiano Ronaldo were soon found to be hugely misplaced.

Obertan struggled with injuries and failed to make much of an impression, scoring just one goal in 28 appearances in all competitions after struggling for regular opportunities.

He left for Newcastle after two seasons but his career failed to significantly progress during five seasons in the North East, the now 32-year-old currently playing his football in Turkey’s second tier with BB Erzurumspor.

Rating: 2/10

Paul Pogba

The most expensive player in the history of Manchester United and a world-record deal at the time of his return to the club, Pogba initially came through the youth ranks at Old Trafford before departing for Juventus in search of regular first-team opportunities.

Four seasons in Turin saw the Frenchman flourish into one of the world’s finest young talents, United splashing a record £89m to bring the mercurial midfielder back to English football.

Pogba helped the Red Devils to a League Cup and Europa League double during his first season, but those successes are the club’s only pieces of major silverware in the past five seasons.

The 28-year-old has shown glimpses of the undoubted quality he possesses and has all the attributes to be amongst the world’s best in his position, but has largely failed on the consistent basis required to help turn United into title challengers.

Pogba has proven in helping France to World Cup success that he can be hugely influential on the biggest stage, though doubts continue to surround his long-term future.

Rating: 7/10

Morgan Schneiderlin

Schneiderlin’s impressive performances in an exciting Southampton side convinced Louis van Gaal that the energetic midfielder could bring dynamism to the United midfield, but the £25m acquisition failed to replicate the previous form he had shown on the South Coast.

The move to Manchester was supposed to take Schneiderlin’s game to the next level but he struggled to cope with the pressures of the step-up, failing to establish himself as a regular and swiftly falling out-of-favour following the arrival of Jose Mourinho as manager.

He left for Everton just 18 months into a long-term deal, the France international moving to Merseyside in a £20m deal in 2016 before returning to French football with Nice in 2020.

Rating: 3/10

Anthony Martial

Great things have been expected of Anthony Martial since he burst onto the scene at Manchester United, the teenager scoring a stunning debut goal against Liverpool after completing a big-money move from Monaco.

Since then Martial’s United career has been a mix of highs and lows, his evident talent and languid style leaving the forward as a player who polarises opinion between supporters and pundits alike.

Winner of the Golden Boy in 2015 as the finest U-21 player in Europe, Martial has since won the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League at Old Trafford, scoring 78 goals in 258 appearances in all competitions.

Often deployed in a wide role before being utilised in his preferred position as a central striker under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the 25-year-old endured a disappointing 2020/21 season and will hope to silence his doubters once again ahead of the forthcoming campaign.

Rating: 6/10

Read – The 9 players to have scored 30+ goals in a single Premier League season

See also – 90’s Football Hall of Fame: Peter Schmeichel

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