Franck Sauzee is one of the modern-day Hibernian legends and his impact on the club is detailed with the Frenchman leaving behind a string of fantastic memories for the fans to cherish.
It is hard to believe that 20-years have passed since Hibernian signed one of the greatest foreign player ever to grace Scottish football.
Over the years, several top-class players have joined Hibernian at the end of their playing careers having spent the majority of their time at a higher level.
George Best and Ray Wilkins immediately spring to mind, but neither of these supremely talented players made the impact on the field that the great Franck Sauzee did.
After taking over at Easter Road, Alex McLeish made it known that he wanted to make a marquee signing and among the names linked to Hibernian at the time were Peter Beardsley, Phillipe Albert and Emil Kostadinov, but once he heard that Franck was available the choice was easy.
When Alex persuaded the Frenchman to sign for Hibernian in February 1999, despite offers from Rapid Vienna and FC Basel, it was the club’s biggest coup for twenty years although many questioned whether the former French captain and European Cup winner was just looking for a last payday in the relatively less pressured environment of the Scottish First Division.
His pedigree could not be questioned, only his motives, but within minutes of his debut, no-one doubted that Hibernian had signed a genius with only the best of intentions at his heart.
Franck’s playing career started with Sochaux in 1983, thereafter he had two spells with Olympique de Marseille, and it was during his second spell with them he went on to win the Champions League in 1993.
During that campaign, Franck scored an incredible six times, including a hat-trick against CSKA Moscow and a goal in a 1-1 draw with Rangers at Ibrox.
Franck also won four French league titles and two French Cups.
His club teammates included Eric Cantona, Alain Boksic, Rudi Voller, Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps, to name but a few.
Franck made his Hibernian debut in a 2-1 away victory over promotion rivals Falkirk at a rain-soaked Brockville Stadium which virtually ensured that Hibernian would be playing top-flight football the following season, but his first Easter Road start did not arrive until six weeks later due to a quirk of the fixtures computer.
In his manager’s notes for the match against old adversaries Airdrie, on 20 March 1999, McLeish joked that Franck was looking forward to playing in front of the home supporters, but only if he was selected to play!
Airdrie, who were renowned for their industrial style of football, were seeking revenge since it was Hibernian who had consigned them to the First Division following a play-off two-years previously.
Hibernian who were top of the league and comfortably clear of their nearest rivals Falkirk went into the game full of confidence and won the fixture comfortably with goals coming from three unlikely sources, Paul Holsgrove, Shaun Dennis and Paul Lovering.
Franck’s introduction to the stadium however ended painfully and he was lucky to escape injury after being caught by a late tackle from Steve Cooper.
A crowd of just under 10,000 witnessed the start of Franck’s tenure and in the latter stages, youngster Kenny Miller came off the bench after his return from a prolific loan spell at Stenhousemuir, but the talk amongst the supporters after the game was all about Franck’s performance.
McLeish later recalled: “When I told Franck about the way Hibs’ supporters liked their teams to play and about the great Hibs teams of the fifties and seventies he didn’t need much persuading to join up at Easter Road.”
‘Le God’ as he was christened by the adoring Hibernian fans provided numerous memories during his all too brief tenure.
His goal and celebration in the Millennium Derby at Tynecastle in December 1999 will never be forgotten nor will his header to put Hibernian 3-1 up against Hearts when he connected with Gary Naysmith’s head, losing some of his front teeth in the process. Unperturbed, he got up with a wad of tissue in his mouth, raised a fist in celebration with the Hibernian fans as they chanted his name.
Wins over Rangers and a famous 6-2 home victory in another Edinburgh Derby helped the side to third place finish and a Scottish Cup final however by then end of the season Franck was carrying an injury which affected his performance as Hibernian struggled to match Martin O’Neil’s all-conquering Celtic side which included a certain Neil Lennon.
An achilles tendon injury ruled him out of the UEFA Cup match away to AEK Athens, but he played in the second leg at Easter Road although the injury resulted in him being substituted in the second half and he showed his frustration by leaving his stud marks in the dugout.
Franck was the natural choice to take over as manager from Ibrox bound McLeish but with Hibernian in a relegation battle, the board took decisive action and replaced him with the more experienced Bobby Williamson.
Although relegation was avoided, many Hibernian supporters believe that Franck would also have saved the club and with the emergence of a golden generation of youngsters, who knows how things would have turned out had he been given longer.
Among his many admirers is Irvine Welsh who describes Franck as his all-time favourite player and even dedicated his book Porno, the sequel to Trainspotting, to him and sent a signed copy to his home.
After a spell as a restauranteur, Franck now works as a football pundit in France and is fully focused on his media career.
Earlier this year he was ranked higher than Paul Pogba, Nicolas Anelka and Dimitri Payet in a list of the country’s greatest-ever players by readers of revered French football publication L’Equipe.
In total, Franck played 90 games for Hibernian and scored 16 goals. In his eight Edinburgh Derbies as a player and his one as a manager, he never finished on a losing side.
Written By John Hislop