Patrick Vieira, Claude Makelele and the top 5 French midfielders in Premier League history

Matt Jones - Editor 17:01 06/07/2019
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  • The Premier League has been blessed with plenty of French flair over the years, but a little bit of steel has been added with the arrival of all-action midfielder Tanguy Ndombele at Tottenham.

    The 22-year-old joins from Lyon for an initial club-record fee of £53.8million that could eventually be worth £62.77m.

    It is a signing that is sure to bolster Spurs’ midfield next season and Ndombele joins an illustrious list of midfield marauders who have graced England’s top flight.

    But, just how will he live up to our top five French Premier League midfielders of all time?

    1 PATRICK VIEIRA (Arsenal 1996–2005, 406 games, 34 goals and Man City 2009-11, 46 games, 6 goals)

    Patrick Vieira

    Simply put, la creme de la creme. Top of this list, but in truth Vieira would be near the top of a list for best midfielder of any nationality in Premier League history, or even in the reckoning for the league’s best player ever, period.

    Vieira was a force of nature and typified the rise of Arsenal under Arsene Wenger from slumbering London giants into behemoths of English football during the mid-90s to mid-2000s.

    Arsenal and Manchester United were kings of domestic football and their intense rivalry regularly spilled over, a fierce, often ugly relationship of which combustible midfielders Vieira and Roy Keane were the chief protagonists.

    As much as he was a fearless warrior and inspirational leader for the Gunners, the Senegal-born star was also a stylish midfielder who married silk with steel. He was a fairly regular scorer and his goals were often spectacular, while his passing range was sublime. He was equally adept at roughing up opponents and breaking up play as he was instigating Arsenal attacks and even finishing them off.

    A 1998 World Cup winner with France, for whom he won 107 caps, he also added a fourth FA Cup with Manchester City in 2011.

    2 CLAUDE MAKELELE (Chelsea 2003-08, 217 games, 2 goals)


    You know you’re pretty special when you have a position named after you. The ‘Makelele role’ was coined during the diminutive French dynamo’s five-year career with Chelsea, a period in which he revolutionised the role of the defensive midfielder.

    It was in fact a role Makelele had honed throughout his career. One in which he truly came to prominence at Stamford Bridge, aged 30, although he arrived a Champions League winner after being the driving force behind the Galacticos’ 2002 triumph against Bayer Leverkusen.

    Combative and hard-working, he screened his defence diligently and, to the unobservant eye, might merely have been seen as a defensive foil for more offensive team-mates.

    But Makelele was so much more, capable of functioning as a deep-lying playmaker due to his ability to dictate the tempo of play with his short, efficient passing, which allowed him to link defence and attack superbly.

    His physical strength and low centre of gravity gave him excellent balance on the ball in limited spaces, which allowed him to retain possession against more physical opponents.

    Florentino Perez refused to see Makelele as the equal of Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo, which prompted him to leave and Zidane to say following the arrival of David Beckham: “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”.

    3 N’GOLO KANTE (Leicester City 2015-16, 40 games, 1 goal and Chelsea 2016-present, 142 games, 8 goals)


    It’s been an explosive rise for the shy and quiet Kante, who six short years ago was plying his trade in obscurity in France’s second division.

    He helped Caen win promotion to Ligue 1 and then survive the following season. Shunned by the big boys he was found by the Foxes, snapped up for just €8m.

    Leicester were more likely to be relegated than win the intensely competitive and elite Premier League in 2015/16 – especially having scraped to safety by a mere six points the previous season.

    Claudio Ranieri – nicknamed ‘The Tinkerman’ came in and, actually, tinkered with very little. Leicester – who pulled off arguably the greatest feat ever witnessed in football, or even sport – barely changed their starting XI week to week, with Kante instrumental.

    Foxes fans called him “the Kante twins” for his ability to cover as much distance as two players. He won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, Premier League Player of the Season and Football Writers Association Footballer of the Year.

    He was signed by Chelsea and subsequently won a second successive Premier League title, becoming the first outfield player to win back-to-back league titles in England with different clubs since Eric Cantona. He then played a typically crucial yet understated role as France won the World Cup last summer.

    “N’Golo works in the shadows. We feel obliged to bring him into the light,” France team-mate Samuel Umtiti said of him.

    4 EMMANUEL PETIT (Arsenal 1997–2000, 116 games, 11 goals and Chelsea 2001-04, 76 games, 3 goals)

    Emmanuel Petit of Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger

    Petit and Vieira only played together in north London for three seasons but formed one of the most dynamic and devastatingly effective midfield partnerships in Premier League history.

    Although his flowing blond locks perhaps indicated he cared more about his appearance than football, Petit was a battle-hardened bruiser who could mix it with the toughest.

    His steely-eyed physicality and energy borne out of a determination to succeed after brother Olivier died from a blood clot on the brain after heading a ball in a game for his amateur team in 1988, at a time when Petit was emerging through the Monaco youth ranks. It had been Wenger who had brought Petit to Stade Louis II.

    Petit was strong, possessed boundless energy reserves and married that with tremendous elegance and poise.

    He and Vieira became symbols of Wenger’s Arsenal, helping the club to a league and FA Cup double in his debut season

    Petit helped elevate the pair’s status by playing a part in Les Bleus’ 1998 World Cup victory – memorably rolling in the third goal in a 3-0 stroll against Brazil in the final.

    The fear-inducing Petit-Vieira partnership was so revered, television bosses jumped on it. Petit appeared in a 1998 Christmas special of much-loved TV show The Bill, where just like he was accustomed to doing on the field, he laid down the law.

    5 YOHAN CABAYE (Newcastle United 2011–2014, 93 games, 18 goals and Crystal Palace 2015-18, 106 games, 10 goals)


    A player with such excellent vision, technical ability and ball control, who was a superb deliverer of free-kicks, or scorer of them, as well as penalties, it seems odd to think Cabaye’s career in England is bookmarked by two fairly undistinguished stints with Newcastle United and Crystal Palace.

    This is a player who orchestrated Lille’s Ligue 1 and Coupe de France double in 2010/11 and who Paris Saint-Germain paid £19 million for in January 2014.

    Cabaye’s eight assists had fired the Magpies to a stunning fifth-placed Premier League finish in his debut season in England in 2011/12 – their highest finish since 2003/04. They reached the Europa League quarter-finals the following season but barely scraped 16th place in the league.

    After five trophies in a short 18 month period in Paris, Alan Pardew somehow persuaded Cabaye to return to the Premier League, this time to Selhurst Park, where his ingenuity helped the Eagles soar into the 2016 FA Cup final, only to lose 2-1 to Manchester United in extra time.

    Cabaye left last summer for a short stint in the UAE with Arabian Gulf League side Al Nasr, but has since become a free agent.