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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 96 for the modest sum of €4.60 million.

If in terms of trophies, this passage in Spain is a success (1 European Supercup, 1 C2 and a Spanish Supercup), the future world champion did not mark the minds of the supporters. The adventure started badly with the dismissal of Johan Cruyff the day of his arrival and a quick injury, which kept him away from the field for the first three days of La Liga.

Even if he has a string of matches, Blanc is not an indisputable starter. A delicate situation that he chooses to flee to make sure to play the 98 World Cup at home.

The dreams of Déhu and Christanval shattered Louis Van Gaal

Barcelona may be a Spanish club, but the passages of Rinus Michels, then 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 FC Barcelona, ​​Frédéric Déhu leaves Lens for the Barcelona sun. If he starts the first two days as a starter, his injury on September 11, 1999 against the neighbor, Espanyol Barcelona, ​​makes him miss the next five games. Déhu relapses and sees Van Gaal withdraw his place. A sad record of 11 La Liga matches before returning to France, to PSG, of which he will become captain.

In the footsteps of Frédéric Déhu, Philippe Christanval settled in Catalonia in the summer of 2001. At the height of his 23 years, the former Monegasque arrives crowned with the status of future great defender. In the end, he will play 47 matches, including only 8 in 2001-2002. Christanval is regularly withdrawn from the group by Van Gaal following several injuries.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 (€17m) to afford the defender’s services.

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

Since 2014, more or less obvious failures

After the Abidal years, an exceptional figure here, then Thierry Henry, Barcelona is relaunching in a quest for French defenders. Jérémy Matthieu in 2014, Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne in 2016 then Jean-Clair Todibo and Clément Lenglet in 2018, the Tricolores are multiplying in the Catalan workforce.

Only Jean-Clair Todibo, and his 5 matches, looks like a real failure if we look at the number of matches played. The Toulousain never imposed himself, chaining loans until being transferred to OGC Nice in the summer of 2021. Jérémy Matthieu and Clément Lenglet, 90 and 158 matches played, each had a strong period before multiplying the poor performances until their relegation to the bench.

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

An almost similar situation for Samuel Umtiti except that his performances cannot be judged as the former Lyonnais multiplies the injuries. During the first two seasons, Umtiti played 43 then 40 matches and arrived at the 2018 World Cup as a boss. A victory that cost him dearly, even today. He loses his place as soon as he returns from Russia, alternating between place on the bench and in the infirmary.

After a last season where he only played 90 minutes, Samuel Umtiti was pushed out. Close to returning to Ligue 1 at Stade Rennais, the track has finally cooled since. Absent for the pre-season camp in the USA, everything suggests that he will not play alongside FC Barcelona’s 11th French defender, Jules Koundé.

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