Vive la Bundesliga: the French stars lighting up German football
Ahead of Germany’s friendly with France in Cologne on Tuesday evening, we pay tribute to the French imports bringing a touch of ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the Bundesliga.
Bayern Munich have long been at the heart of France’s love affair with the Bundesliga, and it was no surprise to see the record champions boosting Franco-German relations further by bringing in highly rated central midfielder Corentin Tolisso from Lyon in one of the big moves of the summer.
The 23-year-old has seriously impressed in his short time in Bavaria, notching up two goals and three assists in 15 appearances in all competitions. Despite having collected just four caps for France, he looks increasingly likely to be making the trip to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup next summer, after another excellent performance in Friday’s 2-0 friendly win over Wales.
Operating in a 4-2-3-1 similar to the one in which he plays at club level, Tolisso brilliantly teed up Antoine Griezmann for France’s opening goal and boasted a pass completion rate of 97.5 per cent by the time he was substituted off at half-time.
After being plagued by injuries last season, Tolisso’s fellow French international Kingsley Coman has also made a positive start to 2017/18, contributing three goals and three assists in 17 outings for Bayern. When you look at his remarkable honours list – 13 trophies, including two Bundesliga titles, one DFB Cup and two DFL Supercups – it’s easy to forget that the former Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus winger is only 21, and still has his best years ahead of him.
Now if there is one man who has embodied French flair in the Bundesliga over the past decade, it is Tolisso and Coman’s teammate Franck Ribery, who is the most successful non-German player in Bundesliga history with 20 titles to his name. Along with his partner-in-crime Arjen Robben, the 34-year-old winger has defined a golden generation at Bayern, and no doubt played a major role in inspiring many of his young compatriots to make the trip across the Rhine.
While Germany’s most successful club has tended to bring in French players with a certain amount of experience under their belts – Jean-Pierre Papin and Bixente Lizarazu are two further examples – other Bundesliga outfits have preferred to target teenagers with star potential.
Watch: Ribery’s decade of success at Bayern Munich
Ousmane Dembele is a prime example. Borussia Dortmund signed the winger as a 19-year-old from Rennes in 2016 for a fee of 15 million euros. A year later, following a sensational campaign in which he scored 10 goals and provided 21 assists in all competitions, they were able to sell him on to Barcelona for 105 million euros plus bonuses. It was the perfect illustration of how the Bundesliga allows young players to develop their abilities at the highest level.
Dortmund also brought in central defender Dan-Axel Zagadou this summer. Like Coman, he came through the youth system at PSG – and like Coman, he chose to leave the French giants in order to get more playing time. The imposing 18-year-old, who stands 1.96m tall, has been deployed as a left-back by coach Peter Bosz, but he has adapted superbly with a string of impressive performances.
The French U19 international even netted his first Bundesliga goal against Hannover on Matchday 10, although he was sent off later in the game as BVB lost 4-2. It was one of those bittersweet moments which are part of any young footballer’s learning curve. And even if he is likely to return to central defence in the long term, Zagadou is undoubtedly gaining invaluable experience in the Dortmund backline.
The same can be said of RB Leipzig‘s Dayot Upamecano. Signed from sister club Red Bull Salzburg in January, the 19-year-old has emerged as one of Ralph Hasenhüttl’s defensive leaders this term and is now attracting interest from some of Europe’s top clubs. Having played 15 of Leipzig’s 17 games, Upamecano continues to go from strength to strength, and his efforts have enabled the Saxony club to keep the pressure on Bayern at the top of the Bundesliga.
Leipzig have also got their hands on another hot prospect in the form of Ibrahima Konate. The 18-year-old only joined from FC Sochaux in July, but he has already featured in four Bundesliga games, playing the full 90 minutes in the wins over Stuttgart and Hannover. Should Upamecano leave at the end of the season, Leipzig will already have his replacement lined up.
Further up the pitch, Jean-Kevin Augustin – another former PSG man – has settled in very nicely alongside Timo Werner, scoring four goals in all competitions. Blessed with pace and power, the 20-year-old forward helped France become European U19 champions in 2016 alongside Schalke midfielder Amine Harit, who has since decided to represent Morocco at senior level.
It is not only the top Bundesliga sides who are giving young French players a chance. Benjamin Pavard has started every league game this term for Stuttgart, and made headlines at the start of November after receiving a surprise call-up to Deschamps’ squad for the friendlies against Wales and Germany. The 21-year-old almost made it a dream debut for Les Bleus at the Stade de France, but his low drive in the 80th minute came back off the post.
And what about Eintracht Frankfurt forward Sebastien Haller? The former AJ Auxerre man arrived at the Eagles this summer after scoring a whopping 51 goals in 98 appearances for Dutch side FC Utrecht, and he has most certainly hit the ground running at the Commerzbank-Arena. The 23-year-old – Frankfurt’s top scorer in the Bundesliga with five goals – has been involved in a total of 12 goals in 13 games in all competitions.
The France U21 captain, Abdou Diallo, has meanwhile enhanced his reputation as an elegant, ball-playing centre-back since joining Mainz from AS Monaco over the summer. A natural leader, the 21-year-old has played in all but one Bundesliga game for the 05ers this season, scoring goals in the 3-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen and the 1-1 draw with Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Watch: Pavard and Haller were among the nominees for October’s Rookie of the Month
Gladbach themselves boast two up-and-coming French youth internationals. Centre-back Mamadou Doucoure is yet another product of the PSG system who has impressed at U18 level, while versatile midfielder Mickael Cuisance chose the Gladbach project over the chance to work with former Bayern coach Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Like Konate, they are two players to keep a close eye on in the coming seasons.
All in all, there are 19 Frenchmen plying their trade in the German top flight, with only Austria (24) and Switzerland (23) currently providing more foreign players. Some are already world-beaters, while others are only starting to show flashes of their potential, but there is no doubt that they are all contributing to the Bundesliga’s French revolution.