Frank Leboeuf insists Ligue 1 is as 'strong' as the Premier League

Frank Leboeuf says nothing beats the thrill of playing after swapping stadiums for the stage… the Chelsea icon now gets his kicks watching PSG’s front three tussle with France’s mean defences and he insists Ligue 1 IS as ‘strong’ as the Premier League

  • Frank Leboeuf has become an established actor since leaving the football pitch 
  • He is also an ambassador for Ligue 1, and has enjoyed watching the stars at PSG 
  • The former Chelsea defender has marvelled at Neymar, Messi and Mbappe 
  • Leboeuf believes that Ligue 1 is just as physically strong as the Premier League 

Frank Leboeuf is sipping coffee on the terrace of a rooftop restaurant in the heart of Montmartre.

The district of Paris best known for its historic ties with art and film, it is a fitting setting for an established French actor. Not so much a retired Premier League footballer.

Leboeuf has that unique distinction of fitting both descriptions.

A World Cup and European Championship winner with France, he is here to chat about football. But ask him about the play he is currently starring in – Drole de Campagne – and he’s more than happy to switch scenes.

‘It’s funny, people remember me as a football player but I only played around 700 games, whereas I’ve been on stage for something like 1,100-and-something performances,’ he tells Sportsmail.

Frank Leboeuf has reinvented himself as an accomplished actor since retiring from football

‘When I was young, I was watching plays with my mother on TV and I always thought that being an actor was a job. whereas being a football player was just a hobby.

‘My father put me into football very early. And I forgot a little bit about acting. It was only when I was at Chelsea that somebody called me and asked me for a movie. I went there and realised after my career I wanted to be an actor.’

So just how does the thrill of theatre match up to matchday?

‘Nothing is comparable with sports,’ he replies instantly. ‘The intensity, the duality of the game is something you cannot compare with something that’s already written and you know the end of the story.

‘Nobody is going to come fight against you on stage. People they come and are happy to see you. In a football stadium some people don’t like you and even more than that sometimes hate you. But the result of that is great.’

Leboeuf last took to the pitch while studying acting in Los Angeles. He played Sunday league alongside the likes of Vinnie Jones, Woody Harrelson and Ray Winston for Hollywood United before hanging up his boots. ‘I think football is dangerous after 40 years old,’ he explains. ‘Your brain thinks you can do stuff but your body doesn’t follow!’

Leboeuf spent the prime years of his career at Chelsea after moving from Ligue 1 in 1996

Now, the 53-year-old is getting acquainted with a different star-studded line up. An ambassador for Ligue 1, Leboeuf spent six years playing in France’s top flight either side of his time at Stamford Bridge.

During his time with Strasbourg and Marseille he came up against his fair share of Paris Saint-Germain icons – George Weah, David Ginola and Ronaldinho to name but a few – though the talent at their disposal now is on another level.

‘When I played against Paris Saint-Germain with Strasbourg, PSG was a great PSG,’ he says.

‘When I came back with Marseille, PSG had a bad time. When I see Paris Saint-Germain now, I feel that Ligue 1 is back to business and that the future is bright.

‘When you have Neymar and Lionel Messi playing for the same club in Ligue 1, how many leagues in the world would love to see that? We are fortunate.

‘All clubs in the world try to attract big players for their brand for the club, for the result, for everything. When you see the frontline – Mbappe, Neymar, Messi – who wouldn’t love to have those players?

Leboeuf moved back to France in 2001 when he joined Ligue 1 side Marseille for two seasons 

Leboeuf is an ambassador for Ligue 1. BT Sport is the exclusive broadcaster of France’s Ligue 1 Uber Eats in the UK and Ireland

‘We talk about Liverpool, the three up front. They have Salah, Mane and Firmino, or Diogo Jota. Is it better or not? I’m not here to judge. But I’m saying that in terms of personalities nobody can cope with that.’

While PSG may be running away with the title – they are already 13 points clear before the season has reached the halfway point – the fortunes of French clubs in Europe suggest the French top flight is strengthening.

Lille joined PSG in the last-16 of the Champions League, where the pair will face Chelsea and Real Madrid respectively.

Across Europe’s other two competitions, every French side made it through the group stages, with the exception of Marseille who dropped from the Europa League to the Europa Conference League.

The former France international knows any league in the world would love to have PSG’s attack


BT Sport 2

Lorient v PSG – Wednesday 22nd December, 7.45pm


Monaco v Rennes – Wednesday 22nd December, 8pm 

‘It’s great to see those clubs showing to the world that Ligue 1 is a big, big league,’ says Leboeuf.

‘We always put Ligue 1 as the fifth league in the world, after England, Spain, Germany and Italy. Physically, I feel it’s as strong as the Premier League.

‘Before the Premier League was strong, it could be a bit nasty. I played in it. I know what it was. And it was kind of easy when I came back from England. I was a soft guy in the Premier League and I was the hard guy in Ligue 1. You could see the difference.

‘Now, I think Pochettino said it, Ligue 1 is tougher than the Premier League. That’s very important to understand that.’

Many have already cottoned on to the benefits of players who have learned the ropes in France’s top flight. It is why, for the last decade, the best talent in French football has been carved up among Europe’s elite.

Of the last 38 players called up to Didier Deschamps national side, only eight ply their trade in Ligue 1.

It is not a trend Leboeuf has a problem with, having himself crossed the channel for an experience abroad, but he does champion the plans of LFP Vincent Labrune to bring mandatory five-year contracts for youth players back into the league.

Leboeuf was part of the all-star France side that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000

‘At my time it was five years, and if the club did not want you to leave you had to stay. It’s how we became strong in France,’ he says.

‘We don’t want those talents to leave too early because they’re not ready, they’re not accomplished. They have to give what they have to give to France.

‘I left France when I was 28. It was the time for me. That’s OK – you’ve served France, you’ve given what you had to give, you’ve promoted the league and that’s fine. It’s what players have to do.’

Leboeuf knows more will follow. William Saliba has already moved to Arsenal and is back in France on loan with Marseille. His team-mate Boubacar Kamara looks set to move, too, when his deal runs out at the end of this campaign.

There are those at the other end of the age scale that he feels still have much to offer in France and even further afield, including Lens right back Jonathan Clauss and Strasbourg striker Ludovic Ajorque.

Leboeuf named Lens defender Jonathan Clauss as one of  Ligue 1’s  best unknown entities

While players are picked off, though, head coaches tend to stay put. It is a phenomenon Leboeuf cannot understand.

‘We have so many good coaches,’ he explains. ‘Julien Stephan in Strasbourg, absolutely fantastic. Franck Haise in Lens. My god! That man is a genius.

‘We always hear, “Oh coach in France? You are not good”. We have fantastic coaches, wake up the world! Or not, maybe leave them to us.’

 BT Sport is the exclusive home of France’s Ligue 1 Uber Eats this season, with several live matches broadcast every week. For more info, visit

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