A season close to Chelsea, Jules Koundé, 23, finally returned to FC Barcelona where he will meet two compatriots, Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembélé. The former Bordeaux player will hope to follow in the footsteps of Éric Abidal, the club’s former captain and emblematic player. An almost unique career because 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 Frenchmen have played in the legendary jersey of FC Barcelona. Ten of them arrived in Catalonia to strengthen the defense line. The first of them? Laurent Blanc, who arrived from Auxerre in the summer of 96 for a modest fee of €4.60 million.
If in terms of trophies, this path in Spain is a success (1 European Supercup, 1 C2 and a Spanish Supercup), the future world champion does not mark the supporters’ thoughts. The adventure started inauspiciously with the dismissal of Johan Cruyff on the day of his arrival and a quick injury, which kept him away from the field for the first three days of La Liga.
Although he has a string of matches, Blanc is not an undisputed starter. It was a dangerous situation that he chose to flee to make sure to play in the 98 World Cup at home.
Déhu and Christanval’s dreams were shattered by Louis van Gaal
Barcelona may be a Spanish club, but the passages of Rinus Michels, then Johan Cruyff are closely linked to its history in the Netherlands. Links not always successful in French.
After eight seasons at FC Barcelona, Frédéric Déhu left Lens for the Barcelona sun. If he started the first two days as a starter, his injury on September 11, 1999 against the neighbor, Espanyol Barcelona, will miss the next five games. Déhu returned and saw Van Gaal leave his place. A disappointing record of 11 games in La Liga before returning to France, to PSG, where he will be the captain.
In the footsteps of Frédéric Déhu, Philippe Christanval settled in Catalonia in the summer of 2001. In the span of his 23 years, the former Monegasque arrived crowned with the status of future great defender. In the end, he would play 47 games, including only 8 in 2001-2002. Christanval was often withdrawn from Van Gaal’s team after several injuries.
This is the amount that Philippe Christanval will spend at FC Barcelona per game, which is comparable to the amount paid by the Monaco club (€17m) to pay for the services of the defender.
Like Déhu and Christanval, Lilian Thuram’s adventure with the Blaugranas was easily marred by injuries. The French side spent just two seasons under the command of Frank Rijkaard, behind Carles Puyol, Rafael Marquez and Gabriel Milito.
Since 2014, more or less obvious failures
After the years of Abidal, a unique figure here, then Thierry Henry, Barcelona relaunched a search 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 increased the Catalan workforce.
Only Jean-Clair Todibo, and his 5 games, looks like a real failure if we look at the number of games played. Toulousain never imposed himself, chaining loans until transferred to OGC Nice in the summer of 2021. Jérémy Matthieu and Clément Lenglet, 90 and 158 games played, each with a solid season before a string of poor performances led to their relegation to the bench.
Samuel Umtiti and Clément Lenglet on the bench of FC Barcelona. (Sports Press)
It’s an almost similar situation for Samuel Umtiti except his performances have been inconclusive as the former Lyonnais has been racking up injuries. During the first two seasons, Umtiti played in 43 then 40 matches and arrived at the 2018 World Cup as a boss. A victory that brought him great value, even today. He lost his post when he returned from Russia, alternated between the bench and the infirmary.
After a final season in which he would only play 90 minutes, Samuel Umtiti was pushed towards the exit. Almost back in Ligue 1 at Stade Rennais, the track has finally cooled since. Absent for the pre-season camp in the USA, everyone suggested he would not play alongside FC Barcelona’s 11th defender Jules Koundé.