Franck Sauzee – The Leith Légende

Scottish football doesn’t often see top class talent arrive on its shores but when a player of that ilk does arrive they stand out like a sore thumb.

When Franck Suazee arrived at Easter Road in February 1999. The veteran was no longer playing at his peak but he still played like a man against boys for much of his time in Scotland.

He would instantly command respect within the Hibees dressing room and Frank help secure promotion back into Scotland’s top flight within months of his arrival.

The delightful, defensive player came to Hibs with a stunning CV. Sauzee had enjoyed two successful spells at Olympique Marseille, winning three Ligue 1 titles and the first ever Champions League. In that extraordinary European run; Sauzee would end up as the competition’s joint top scorer (alongside Marco van Basten and Alen Boksic on six goals) sitting just behind Brazilian superstar striker Romario.

The Aubenas native would win 39 caps for Les Bleus, scoring nine times for his nation. He was extremely unlucky not to win more caps, he missed out on the golden period for France in the late 90s as Aime Jacquet decided to phase out most of the older French players in favour of those younger stars that were coming through.

Like so many other great players, Suazee managed to perfect various positions during his career. He was great as a midfielder, was a fine sweeper and a formidable centre-back.

His intelligence was second to none, it was a quality which made him an absolute pleasure to watch.

At Easter Road Frank could often orchestrate things from the backline with tremendous, accurate long range passes or he could transition play by carrying the ball from deeper positions into the oppositions half of the field. He’d often think two or three steps ahead of the opponent and he also possessed the ability to take his teammates with him.

His vast experience and ability to lead made it impossible for Alex McLiesh not to make him captain. He had also held the armband for France and OM during the earlier part of his illustrious career. Sauzee was the ultimate professional and was a hugely positive influence on younger players like Ian Murray, Kenny Miller and Paul Hartley.

The Frenchman was also extremely dangerous when he had a sight of the opposing goal. Scottish goalies would’ve been anxious whenever Hibs had a free-kick at the edge of the box, as Frank could unleash thunderbolts that would rifle straight into the net. He’d also lurk at the edge of penalty areas awaiting any loose balls that would trickle out of the box and into the path of his vicious right foot!

While the super smart and majestic Franck Sauzee could shine with his technical ability, that didn’t stop him from also leaving everything in a challenge. The game in Scotland is known for being tough and frantic but that certainly didn’t intimidate someone of ‘Le God’s’ (a nickname given to him by the Hibs faithful) stature. He didn’t mind leaving a boot in, challenging for every ball and putting his body on the line. The best example of this was when the defender converted a header in a brutal Edinburgh derby clash with Hearts in March 2000. As Sauzee won the header, which looped over a despairing Antti Niemi, his face smashed into the back of an opponent’s head. The resulting blow knocked the sweeper unconscious. He would wake up to discover he had lost a few of his front teeth. The French star might have been dazed but he simply came too, dusted himself down and went on to lead his team to another famous derby victory.

The capital derby day was a bit of a lucky one for big Franck as he never tasted defeat against Hearts; he grabbed a couple of goals in the big Edinburgh encounters and also captained The Hibees to a glorious 6-2 triumph over their biggest foes. The Champions League winner would run the length of Tynecastle to celebrate one of his stunning strikes with the passionate away faithful.

It was clear from the off that he would become an instant fan favourite at Easter Road. Who wouldn’t love seeing a Rolls Royce of a player playing for their team? Leith would often hear a chorus of ‘There’s Only One SUAZEE!‘ echo around the port’s neighbourhood. The fans in the terraces just adored the swaggering, always smiling Frenchman who just played football with an unmatchable panache.

His ability and his passion for Hibs certainly caught the eye of famous Hibernian supporter Irvine Welsh. The Leith born superstar author even dedicated best selling novel to the Giant Gallic gentleman.

Welsh would essentially write a footballing love letter about his Hibs hero, in The Guardian, stating:

The marriage of my team, Hibernian FC, and the French International, Franck Sauzee, was one made in footballing heaven.

At Hibs, his legs may have been heavier than of old, but like all gifted footballers easing into the veteran years, he made up for this with his incredible vision and anticipation.

Striding on to the park like a casual colossus, his presence was simultaneously an inspiration and a calming influence on those around him, both on the field and in the stands.

Irvine Welsh on The Guardian

While I loved watching Frank Suazee, I feel it’s only right to let a true Hibee end this article on the former French internationalist:

‘The European Cup winner in Hibernian’s midst. A gentleman, a genius, a class above.

Hibs were better when Sauzee played. When he moved back to sweeper he gave us weekly lessons in how simple but beautiful football can be. If you’re good enough to make it look easy.

Couldn’t fault his commitment either. The dental disaster suffered in scoring against Hearts. The times he played through injury simply because we needed him.

The goals. The skills. Sublime.’

Tom Hall

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