From Benjamin Pavard to Kingsley Coman, Abdou Diallo and Lucas Hernandez, the Bundesliga has become infused with a distinct French flavour in recent years. And while that particular quartet are all established top-class players, talented youngsters from the home of the 2018 FIFA World Cup winners are now streaming to Germany.
But why? Allow bundesliga.com to shine a light on the situation…
As recently as 2012/13, there were only three Frenchman lacing their boots in Germany's top flight: Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Jonathan Schmid (Freiburg) and Matthieu Delpierre (Hoffenheim). In 2015/16 the number had risen to eight; then 14 and 20 in the subsequent seasons, before reaching an all-time high in 2018/19 with 23. That's the second highest non-German nationality in the league after Austria (30).
A similar trend has happened with other nationalities too, albeit to a lesser extent. Christian Pulisic's meteoric rise paved the way for other gifted Americans to come – look at Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Josh Sargent, for example – while the Jadon Sancho effect has triggered an increase in British youngsters crossing the channel: Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith Rowe and Rabbi Matondo, to name but three.
Watch: Ribery, 12 years at Bayern, 12 goals
So is it simply a case of one pioneering player opening the door in France, too? Sort of. French players have come to the Bundesliga in low, if steady, numbers since the 1960s, but nothing like they are now.
"In the past, young French players either went to Italy or to England," said Valerien Ismael, a former France U21 international who played for Werder Bremen, Bayern and Hannover in the 2000s, and more recently was head coach at Wolfsburg in 2016/17. "Germany was never really an option due to the cold weather and the language. [Bixente] Lizarazu was one of the first real trailblazers, then Ribery and more recently [Ousmane] Dembele – they all paved the way for this trend to come about."
And once those players arrived in Germany and discovered the grass really is greener, word soon spread. "People are following the Bundesliga in increasing numbers in France," said Dembele after signing for Borussia Dortmund in 2016, at the age of 19. "A lot of my teammates at youth international level have noticed that the Bundesliga is booming and that it's the right step for us."
That step largely involves youngsters playing first-team football on a regular basis – a chance not often afforded them elsewhere. "It's well known that at Bayer Leverkusen you quickly get an opportunity to prove yourself at the highest level and that if you're good enough, we'll put our trust in you, regardless of your age," said Leverkusen managing director Rudi Völler after completing the signing of France U20 international Moussa Diaby from Paris Saint-Germain recently. Völler may as well have been speaking on behalf of most Bundesliga teams.
Just look at the list. Dan-Axel Zagadou and Diallo at Dortmund; Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konate, Jean-Kevin Augustin and Nordi Mukiele at RB Leipzig; Jean-Philippe Mateta, Moussa Niakhate and Ronaël Pierre-Gabriel at Mainz; Mikael Cuisance and Mamadou Doucoure at Borussia Mönchengladbach and Evan N'Dicka at Eintracht Frankfurt. They are all France youth internationals who could well form the core of the senior side for years to come.
"They've seen that their compatriots have been successful in the Bundesliga and that they're given opportunities to play here and can have an important role," said Mainz sporting director Rouven Schröder. "That's a big factor."
Undoubtedly so, but it is not the only one. "I didn't want to go to the Premier League or to Spain," said Schalke winger Amine Harit, who was born and raised in France but opted to play for Morocco at international level, after joining from Nantes in 2016. "For me, the Bundesliga was the only option because at the U19 European Championship [in 2016] I noticed that the atmosphere in German stadiums is unique."
Development, opportunity and atmosphere: so far, so clear from a player's perspective. But what's in it for the clubs?
Players coming and going is a fact of life in football, so teams constantly need to bring in new faces so as not to be understaffed. And in this regard, quality is king. "The French players in Ligue 1 and also in Ligue 2 are very robust and very well trained," added Schröder. "They've got good characters and have a certain dynamism. They're well suited to German football."
Former Leipzig head coach and sporting director Ralf Rangnick struck a similar chord: "We look for players who have a bit of that 'street footballer' about them, but we also want players that are well trained both technically and tactically. France is a good market for that. There's a lot of quality in the country and a good level of training at youth level."
Indeed, across the Bundesliga, there is seemingly a unanimous opinion about French youngsters. "They're very, very well trained," (Dortmund head coach Lucien Favre); "Regardless of whether they're defenders, strikers or midfielders, they've got brilliantly trained players in every position," (Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl); "What also strikes me is that young French players are very good individually and can find solutions in one-on-one situations," (former Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel).
And with fees exploding on the transfer market in recent years, savvy Bundesliga sporting directors have seemingly found the Holy Grail in France: technically astute, tactically aware players available for relatively inexpensive amounts.
It is, then, seemingly a match made in heaven, a win-win for all parties. Just ask Pavard, who has reaped the rewards since joining VfB Stuttgart as a 20-year-old from Lille in 2016, and has since earned a move to Bayern: "In Germany, the training is very tough and very focused. If you're schooled in that environment, you develop quicker. If I'd stayed in Lille, I might not be a World Cup winner now."