Several African stars would have represented African countries internationally, but who are they?
Several African countries once belonged to the French empire, with millions of African men and women taken to France as slaves during its reign that spanned roughly between 1605 and 1962.
Due to the population, the French are still composed of many people of African descent from various generations. Many world-class players connected to Africa have inspired Les Bleus to succeed on the global stage. These players are key to the success of the France national football team, which has won incredible feats like the 2018 World Cup and other titles.
Here are 10 French players with African roots.
1. Kylian Mbappe
Born in France to a Cameroonian father and an Algerian mother. Kylian Mbappé Lottin is a French professional footballer who plays as a forward for Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain and the France national team.
He is considered one of the best players in the world. Mbappé is known for his dribbling abilities, unique speed, and finishing. During his childhood, he played for AS Bondy and also AS Monaco.
2. Presnel Kimpembe
Kimpembe was born on 13 August 1995, Beaumont-sur-Oise, France, to a Congolese father and a Haitian mother. He was named after his maternal grandfather.
He is a professional footballer who plays as a centre-back for Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain. He was part of the France squad that won the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
3. Samuel Umtiti
Born in Cameroon, Roger Milla even tried to get him to play for Cameroon. Umtiti was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon. He moved with his family when he was two years old to Villeurbanne, France. A few months later, however, the family settled in the district of Ménival in the 5th arrondissement of Lyon. Thereafter, Umtiti joined the local football club Ménival at five. At nine years old, he joined Lyon’s youth academy.
Umtiti began his professional career with Lyon in 2012, winning the Coupe de France and Trophée des Champions in his first year. He totalled 170 games and three goals before a €25 million transfer to La Liga club Barcelona in 2016. He won three Copa del Rey and two La Liga titles at Barcelona.
After winning 47 caps and scoring three goals at the youth level, including winning the 2013 U-20 World Cup, Umtiti made his senior debut for France at Euro 2016, where they reached the final. Two years later, he was part of the squad that won the 2018 World Cup. He scored the only goal of the match in the semi-final against Belgium.
4. Paul Pogba
Born in France to two Guinean parents. Born in Lagny-Sur-Marne, Pogba joined the youth team of Ligue 2 side Le Havre in 2007 before a protracted transfer brought him to Manchester United two years later. After beginning his senior career with Manchester United two years later, limited appearances persuaded him to depart to join Italian side Juventus on a free transfer in 2012, where he helped the club to four consecutive Serie A titles, as well as two Coppa Italia and two Supercoppa Italiana titles.
During his time in Italy, Pogba further established himself as one of the most promising young players in the world and received the Golden Boy award in 2013, followed by the Bravo Award in 2014. In 2016, Pogba was named to the 2015 UEFA Team of the Year and the 2015 FIFA FIFPro World XI after helping Juventus to the 2015 UEFA Champions League Final, their first in 12 years.
Internationally, Pogba captained France to victory at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup and took home the award for Best Player for his performances during the tournament. He made his debut for the senior team a year later and featured prominently at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where he was awarded the Best Young Player Award for his performances. He later represented his nation at UEFA Euro 2016 on home soil, where he finished as a runner-up before winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup, scoring in the final.
5. N’golo Kante
N’Golo Kanté, born 29 March 1991, is a French professional footballer who plays as a central midfielder for Premier League club Chelsea and the France national team. Considered by many to be one of the world’s best midfielders, Kanté is widely praised for his work rate and defensive acumen.
Kanté made his senior professional debut with Boulogne in 2012, appearing as a substitute in one Ligue 2 match, and played an entire season in the third division the following year. After that, he joined Ligue 2 side Caen on a free transfer, finished third and won promotion to Ligue 1. He stayed with the club for one more year. In 2015, Kanté joined Leicester City for £5.6 million.
In 2017 Kanté was named the French Player of the Year, a first for a player from the Premier League in seven years, and twelve months later was a key member of the 2018 FIFA World Cup winning squad.
6. Corentin Tolisso
Born in France but has connections to Togo through his parents. In 2016, Togo manager Claude Le Roy tried to get him to play for the African side, but Tolisso declined. Tolisso was born on 3 August 1994. He is a French professional footballer who plays as a central midfielder for Ligue 1 club Lyon and the France national team.
A graduate of the Lyon academy, Tolisso made his professional debut for the club in 2013, playing 160 matches and scoring 29 goals. He joined Bayern Munich for €41.5 million in the summer of 2017, a record for a transfer to a German club, before returning to Lyon in 2022. Tolisso represented France at various youth levels before making his senior debut in 2017. He was part of their squad that won the 2018 FIFA World Cup, also featuring at UEFA Euro 2020.
7. Benjamin Mendy
Born in France to Senegalese parents. He decided to represent France and made his senior debut in March 2017. Mendy is a French professional footballer who plays as a left-back for Premier League club Manchester City. He represented the France national team from 2017 until 2019.
After coming through Le Havre’s youth academy, Mendy began his playing career with the club’s reserve team in 2010, eventually being promoted to the first team a year later. He remained with the club until 2013 when he joined Ligue 1 club Marseille. Mendy spent the next three seasons with Les Olympiens before leaving for Monaco, with whom he won the national championship in 2016–17.
8. Nabil Fekir
Born in France to Algerian Parents. He was named to Algeria’s squad for friendlies against Oman and Qatar in March 2015. However, he withdrew to take part in the French squad for friendlies against Brazil and Denmark. Fekir made his debut for France in March 2015 and was chosen in their squad that won the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
9. Ousmane Dembélé
Although born in France. Dembele’s mother is French but of Mauritanian and Senegalese descent, while his father is from Mali. He is a French professional footballer who plays as a winger for La Liga club Barcelona and the France national team.
Dembélé began his career at Rennes before joining Dortmund in 2016. He won the DFB-Pokal with die Borussen in the 2016–17 season, scoring a goal in the final. A year later, he transferred to Barcelona for an initial fee of €105 million, becoming the joint-second most expensive footballer alongside compatriot Paul Pogba. Dembélé subsequently won the double of La Liga and Copa del Rey in an injury-riddled first season in Spain.
After winning 20 caps and scoring five goals at the youth level, Dembélé made his senior international debut for France in 2016. He was a member of the France squad that won the 2018 FIFA World Cup, also featuring at UEFA Euro 2020.
10. Steven Nzonzi
Steven Nkemboanza Mike Christopher Nzonzi was born on 15 December 1988. He is a French professional footballer who plays defensive midfielder for the Qatar Stars League club Al-Rayyan.
Nzonzi began his career with Ligue 2 side Amiens, impressing enough to earn a move to Premier League side Blackburn Rovers in 2009 for £650,000. He spent three years at Ewood Park, which ended with the Rovers being relegated at the end of the 2011–12 season. However, he remained in the Premier League, joining Stoke City for £3 million. At Stoke, Nzonzi established himself as a key member of the squad under Tony Pulis and then under Mark Hughes, where his performances during 2014–15 earned him the Player of the Year award. He joined Spanish side Sevilla for £7 million in July 2015 and won the UEFA Europa League in his first season.
Nzonzi represented France at the under-21 level. He turned down the chance to represent his ancestral DR Congo at the senior international level and was unsuccessful in his attempt to become eligible to play for England. In November 2017, he made his debut for the senior France squad and was part of the team that won the 2018 FIFA World Cup.