The best French footballers for Real Madrid
When you think of powerful football teams, Real Madrid is always one of the first clubs that springs to mind. After all, there’s a reason why they are known as Los Galaticos. It’s because they have always drawn in some of the best talent on the planet – no matter where they are from. Alongside harbouring some of the best Spanish talent, some top stars from across the border in France have moved to the Bernabeu to secure their place in fame and fortune. Some of the top French stars that have played for Madrid have enjoyed career-defining moments that are remembered to this very day. So who are the best French footballers that have played for Real Madrid.
Raymond Kopa (1956-1959)
France produced a handful of superstars from yesteryear that stole the headlines worldwide and one of those was Raymond Kopa. Kopa was known as one of the first fully attacking midfielders and wowed fans with pacey runs and a thirst for goals. Kopa’s biggest achievements came in Spain with Real Madrid in the 1950s as part of the most legendary sides in footballing history. Starring alongside the likes of Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano, Kopa was the catalyst that fed one of the deadliest striking trios in history. His best form came in 1958 where he scored 10 goals in the 1958-59 season as well as notching 8 in the 1957-58 season. This form saw Kopa win the 1958 Ballon D’Or award as well as enjoy 3 consecutive European Cup wins with Madrid. After leaving Real to move back to France with Reims, Kopa ended his time as a fan favourite – one that sees “Little Napoleon” to this very day.
Claude Makelele (2000-2003)
Often regarded as the benchmark for defensive midfielders, Claude Makelele revolutionised the game today – and this all started in Spain with Real. Makelele moved to the Bernabeu in 2000 from Celta Vigo with a burgeoning reputation. However, with the likes of Raul and Luis Figo surging up the pitch, Makelele developed a style that stopped attacks dead yet kept the game moving for his side. Makelele enjoyed immense success with Real winning 2 La Liga titles and the 2002 Champions League Final. Amid growing discontent with his place at the club, Makelele left for Chelsea in 2003 after the club saw him as a key part of the rebuilding efforts at Stamford Bridge. It was the true sign that Makelele was seen as an elite player in Europe.
Zinedine Zidane (2001-2006)
In the early 2000s, Zinedine Zidane was the player every team wanted. Therefore, it came as no surprise when Real smashed the then world transfer record to sign Zizou from Juventus. It was a match made in heaven really as Zidane’s driving runs and technical prowess on the ball gave Real a cutting edge they were missing. His all-round drive and never-ending stamina saw Zidane regularly involved in all the action in his five-year spell in Spain. This brought a haul of personal awards his way including the 2003 FIFA Player of the Year, 3x European Player of the Year and 2xFifPro World XI nominations. The sheer number of accolades saw Zidane named in the club’s all-time XI in 2012 and earn a spot in the club’s Hall of Fame in 2014. A true sign that actions speaks louder than words.
Raphael Varane (2011-2021)
When Raphael Varane joined Real in 2011, many saw him with potential to be one of the top defenders of his era. They were proven to be right. Varane’s ability to read tackles and track back with speed made him light years ahead of others his age. It was matched by an attitude that belied his age and improved over the decade he spent in Spain. Often a lynchpin in Real’s backline, Varane played pivotal roles in 3 La Liga title wins during his time with the club. His efforts were truly noticed in the 2017-18 season where Varane was awarded a spot in the FifPro World XI as well as in UEFA’s Team of the Year. After a decade with the club, Varane left in 2021 to join Manchester United knowing that he had achieved everything there is to do in world football with one of the most famous sides in the world.
Karim Benzema (2009-)
It’s amazing to think about how consistently Karim Benzema can deliver for Real Madrid. A lethal finisher inside the box, Benzema is a player who has no real weaknesses – something that has suited Real to the tee in the 2010s and 2020s. His record in front of goal has been immense having notched up 20-goal tallies in 6 of his 12 seasons with the club. Yet Benzema’s form has improved with age as his best record was 27 goals in 32 games during the 2021-22 season. It’s this form that has seen Benzema win 4xPlayer of the Year awards with the club, 10 FifPro XI nominations and a 2x La Liga Best Player of the Year award. With Benzema sitting second in Real’s all-time scoring record, it’s clear that he will remain one of the club’s most revered names even once he hangs up the boots.