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FC Barcelona and the curse of French defenders

A time close to Chelsea, Jules Koundé (23) finally turned to FC Barcelona where he will find two compatriots, Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembélé. The former Bordeaux player will hope to follow in the footsteps of Éric Abidal, former captain and emblematic player of the club. An almost unique career, as it is difficult for a French defender to win in Catalonia.

Laurent Blanc, pioneer of constant failure

From René Fenouillère (1903-1904) to Antoine Griezmann (2019-2021), twenty French people have played in the legendary FC Barcelona jersey. Ten of them arrived in Catalonia to strengthen the defensive line. The first of them? Laurent Blanc, who arrived from Auxerre in the summer of 1996 for the modest sum of €4.60 million.

If in terms of trophies, this passage in Spain is a success (1 European Super Cup, 1 Cup of Cups and a Spanish Super Cup), the one who was not yet world champion did not mark the spirits supporters. The adventure had started badly, with the dismissal of Johan Cruyff the day of his arrival, then an injury, which deprived him of the first three days of La Liga.

Even if he chained the matches, Blanc was not an indisputable holder. A delicate situation that he chose to flee to ensure that he played the 1998 World Cup at home.

The dreams of Déhu and Christanval shattered by Louis van Gaal

FC Barcelona may be a Spanish club, but the passages of Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff have deeply linked its history to that of the Netherlands. Links that have not always succeeded in the French.

After eight seasons at the club, Frédéric Déhu left Lens for sunny Barcelona. If he played the first two days as a starter, his injury on September 11, 1999 against the neighbor, Espanyol Barcelona, ​​made him miss the next five games. Déhu then relapsed and saw Van Gaal withdraw his place. He left with a sad record of 11 La Liga matches before returning to France, to PSG, of which he will become captain.

In the footsteps of Déhu, Philippe Christanval had settled in Catalonia in the summer of 2001. At the height of his 23 years, the former Monegasque arrived crowned with the status of future great defender. In the end, he will play 47 matches, including only 8 in 2001-2002. Christanval was regularly left out of the group by Van Gaal due to various injuries.

€360,000

This is the amount that Philippe Christanval will have cost FC Barcelona per match, in proportion to the amount paid by the club to Monaco (€17 million) to afford the defender’s services.

Like Déhu and Christanval, Lilian Thuram’s adventure with the Blaugranas was quickly marred by injuries. The French full-back spent only two seasons under Frank Rijkaard, behind Carles Puyol, Rafael Marquez and Gabriel Milito in the hierarchy of central defenders.

Since 2014, more or less flagrant failures

After the Abidal years, who is an exception here, then Thierry Henry, Barcelona has relaunched a quest for French defenders. Jérémy Mathieu in 2014, Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne in 2016 then Jean-Clair Todibo and Clément Lenglet in 2018, the Tricolores have multiplied in the Catalan workforce.

Only the passage of Jean-Clair Todibo, with his 5 matches, leaves a feeling of real failure, if we focus on the number of games played. The player trained in Toulouse never imposed himself, chaining loans until being transferred to OGC Nice, in the summer of 2021. Jérémy Mathieu and Clément Lenglet, 90 and 158 matches played, each had a strong period before chaining poor performances until their relegation to the bench.

Samuel Umtiti and Clément Lenglet on the FC Barcelona bench. (Sports Press)

The situation is almost similar for Samuel Umtiti, except that his performance cannot be judged, as the former Lyonnais is regularly unavailable. In the first two seasons, Umtiti had played 43 and then 40 matches in all competitions and arrived at the 2018 World Cup full of confidence. But the journey to the title cost him dearly, even today. He lost his place at Barça upon his return from Russia, alternating between the bench and the infirmary.

After a last season where he will have played only 90 minutes, Umtiti is pushed towards the exit. Close to returning to Ligue 1, at Stade Rennais, the track has since cooled. Absent for the preseason camp in the United States, everything suggests that he will not play alongside the 11th French defender in the history of FC Barcelona, ​​Jules Koundé.

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