Nkunku next: Ranking Chelsea’s 20 French players in the PL era

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Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele during their Premier League victory over Bolton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge, London, October 2005.

Chelsea have never shied away from using foreign players, and it has been no different with their French cohort with the club having said ‘bonjour’ to a mammoth 20 French players at a senior level.

Some have lifted the Champions League, or should we say Coupe des Clubs Champions Europeens as it reads on the famous trophy, whilst wearing the famous blue shirt. Others… well let’s just say it wasn’t long until the club said ‘au revoir’.

And Christopher Nkunku has become the latest Gallic player to arrive at Stamford Bridge, joining from Lyon for a fee believed to be around £29million.

But how do the rest of his compatriots stack up in a Chelsea shirt? We’ve ranked all 20 of them in order from worst to best. Bon Appetit.

20. Gael Kakuta

Kakuta can probably feel hard done by to be bottom of this list, but his transfer getting the club temporarily banned from the market is probably a reasonable enough issue to put him at the foot of the table.

Kakuta arrived from Lens as a youth player in 2007, but in 2009 he was banned for four months and the club fined for breaching his contract at Lens in order to move to Chelsea.

It provoked a long legal battle in the courts, with Chelsea eventually winning their appeal, but by that point the damage was done.

Lille-born Kakuta, who had looked a promising young player prior to the ban, never quite looked the same after his stint in the stands, and a series of loans followed before he left for free to Sevilla in 2015.

He’s a Democratic Republic of Congo senior international so arguably shouldn’t be on this list, but when he was at Chelsea he was registered as French and turned out regularly for their underage sides.

19. Tiemoue Bakayoko

Bakayoko arrived in much anticipation from Monaco, becoming Chelsea’s then-record transfer at £40million.

He was worth every penny… if you didn’t like Chelsea and wanted to see them waste money on a player who was perennially loaned out after one poor season.

He’s only just left Chelsea after his contract expired in June. What a waste.

18. Laurent Charvet

Eleven appearances in a six-month loan in 1998 mean Charvet doesn’t warrant anything more than 18th place on this list.

But he once scored the winner against Spurs and a corker against Leeds, so there’s always that.

17. Lassana Diarra

Diarra has as diverse a footballing portfolio as possible.

It features Chelsea, for whom he made a handful of appearances as an exciting youth prospect between 2007 and 2009, Arsenal, Real Madrid and PSG.

But then it also includes Portsmouth, Anzhi Makhachkala, Lokomotiv Moscow and Abu Dhabi side Al Jazira.

Weirder yet is the order in which he played for them, with Diarra actually finishing his journeyman career at PSG in 2019.

16. Emmanuel Petit

Better remembered for his time at Arsenal, Petit can probably feel had done by being 14th on this list, but his move to Chelsea can be put down to a case of bad timing for both him and the club.

The Frenchman joined Chelsea for the final three seasons of his career after a disastrous transfer at Barcelona and whilst he looked good he was blighted by injury, particularly in his final season, after which the French World Cup winner retired in 2004.

Still, here he is scoring a proper messy goal.

15. Loic Remy

A proper “streets won’t forget” player along with many in that QPR team, which is a gloried way of saying inconsistent and only good for a bit.

Remy made the switch to Chelsea in 2014, with Jose Mourinho’s side needing a rotational option up front. He remains one of the few players that never fell out with Mourinho, citing his man-management during his time with the Blues.

“He trusted me,” Remy said.

“I remember one time before a big match, it was Manchester City at home, and Diego Costa was injured and he grabbed me and said ‘I know your quality. I know you can play these type of games, so just go and don’t think too much.

“And that’s what happened. I scored in this game as well.”

He only scored once in the 2015-16 campaign and left Crystal Palace on loan in 2016 before being released by Chelsea the following year.

He still plays football at the age of 35, with Adana Demirspor in Turkey.

14. Bernard Lamboude

Lamboude didn’t play too much during his three-year stint at Chelsea around the turn of the millennium, but he sure won stuff.

The defender lifted the Cup Winner’s Cup and League Cup in 1997-98 along with the 1998 Super Cup and 2000 Charity Shield.

Never any more than a squad player, Lamboude wasn’t satisfied just winning trophies and moved to Portsmouth where winning trophies wasn’t a concern and he… remained a squad player.

13. Malang Sarr

Malang Sarr is one of only two players currently at Chelsea on this list.

His middling position represents the fact he has only made his debut this season and whilst he’s promising at times, it’s hard to see him having a long-term future at Stamford Bridge.

12. Wesley Fofana

Fofana joined in Todd Boehly’s trolley dash last summer, but the former Leicester centre-back hasn’t yet shone in a Chelsea shirt.

Still, he established a reputation as one of English football’s best young defenders before arriving at Stamford Bridge, so there’s plenty of time for Fofana to rise up this list.

11. Benoit Badiashile

Badiashile only joined Chelsea in January 2023, but has already impressed with his early Premier League performances.

The £34million signing from Monaco was a relatively unknown proposition, but helped his side keep two clean sheets in his opening pair of appearances.

Time will tell, but the Stamford Bridge faithful are happy with Badiashile so far.

10. Didier Deschamps

One of only three people to win the World Cup as a player and a manager, Deschamps had one brilliant season with Chelsea in 1999-00.

The No.6 known as the ‘water-carrier’ came, water-carried, and left with an FA Cup to conquer England as he had done in Italy and France before.

He wasn’t quite done there, having one final season in Spain where he helped Valencia to the 2001 Champions League final, only to lose in the final game of an illustrious career.

9. Kurt Zouma

Zouma won plenty of trophies as a regular starter throughout his seven years in Chelsea, including the Champions League.

But a move to West Ham in 2021, where Zouma helped his new club reach the Europa League semi-finals, felt about right for all parties.

8. Nicolas Anelka

Le Sulk did it everywhere, but he arguably reached his nonchalant peak at Chelsea.

READ: Nicolas Anelka: ‘Le Sulk’ who inspired smiles at Arsenal & Chelsea

7. Olivier Giroud

Giroud swapped red for blue in 2018 when he joined Chelsea from Arsenal in January.

He earns himself a lofty seventh place for his two and a half seasons at the club filled with silverware, winning the Europa League, FA Cup, and in his final season the Champions League.

One of the coolest men in football, he became loved at Stamford Bridge as a player capable of popping up with a goal exactly when it was needed.

In December 2020 he became the oldest player in Premier League history to score in six successive starts at the age of 34, and the first for Chelsea since Jimmy Floyd Hasselbank in 2001.

It helped he often put Arsenal to the sword, too.

6. Florent Malouda

It would be easy to say that Malouda is only this high due to the length of his service at Chelsea, but that would be to ignore the fact he stayed there between 2007 and 2013 largely on merit.

He won three FA Cups, a Champions League, and a Premier League after joining from Lyon and played important roles in each.

The last two seasons at Stamford Bridge were certainly paydays for the winger, who featured less and less as his contract ran out and he left on bad terms.

He played in France, India and Luxembourg after Chelsea. His time in India featured this awful penalty.

“He knows where he’s putting this,” said the commentator… aye, into orbit.

5. William Gallas

He might have caused anger when he threatened to score an own goal in order to move to Arsenal, but the fact he was terrible in north London means Gallas’ Chelsea legacy is still intact.

And it was some career he had with the Blues, a stalwart at the back throughout his time at the club, helping them to back-to-back Premier Leagues and a League Cup to boot.

4. Frank Leboeuf

Really, fourth and second in this list come as a pair.

Leboeuf formed one-half of Chelsea’s resolute centre-back pairing around the turn of the century and helped the club to two FA Cups, a League Cup, and the 1998 Cup Winners’ Cup.

But the glitz and glamour of the footballing world weren’t enough for Lebouef. Even before he retired he began acting, throwing himself into the art when he left football behind.

You can see him in the Stephen Hawking biopic delivering the scientist’s diagnosis very seriously. We’re pretty sure he alone is the reason the movie got nominated for an Oscar.

3. Claude Makelele

They call it the Makelele role for a reason.

For five seasons between 2003 and 2008, Makelele did everything and more from the No.6 position, helping to transform Chelsea from nearly-men to back-to-back English Champions.

Even in his thirties, Makelele did more than a good job for Chelsea, helping them to the Champions League final at the age of 35.

To have won it a second time would have been the icing on top of the cake of an illustrious career, but it wasn’t to be.

2. Marcel Desailly

The other half of that stalwart back two, Desailly was a stunning player.

He is one of the greatest defenders to have ever played, and his six years at Chelsea deservedly sees him second on this list.

Marcel Desailly points and shouts during a Chelsea away game against Aston Villa in February 2002.

READ: A tribute to Marcel Desailly, ‘the rock’ on which Chelsea built their success

1. N’Golo Kante

Kante was perhaps the single most vital player in Chelsea’s 2016-17 title win in his debut season, but there is no ‘perhaps’ about whether he was the main man in their Champions League triumph in 2021.

Man of the match against Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, and most crucially of all against Manchester City in the final, when he produced a masterclass in the art of defensive midfield.

One of the nicest men in football, he deserves this spot as Le Roi of Chelsea’s French players.

By Patrick Ryan

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