Marcel Desailly

Marcel Desailly (born Odenke Abbey; 7 September 1968) is a French former professional footballer, widely considered to be among the greatest centre-backs and defensive midfielders to ever play. During a successful career at club level, lasting from 1986 to 2006, Desailly won several titles, including UEFA Champions League medals with both Marseille and A.C. Milan, and also played for Nantes and Chelsea, among other teams. At international level, he collected 116 caps between 1993 and 2004, scoring 3 goals, and was a member of the France international squads that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.

Marcel Desailly
Desailly in 2011
Personal information
Full name Marcel Desailly[1]
Birth name Odenke Abbey
Date of birth (1968-09-07) 7 September 1968[2]
Place of birth Accra, Ghana
Height 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)[3]
Position(s) Centre-back / Defensive midfielder
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1986–1992 Nantes 162 (5)
1992–1993 Marseille 47 (1)
1993–1998 Milan 137 (5)
1998–2004 Chelsea 158 (6)
2004–2005 Al-Gharafa 28 (6)
2005–2006 Qatar SC 7 (0)
Total 539 (23)
National team
1993–2004 France 116 (3)
Men's football
Representing  France
FIFA World Cup
UEFA European Championship
FIFA Confederations Cup
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

Club career

Marcel Desailly was born as Odenke Abbey on 7 September 1968 in Accra, Ghana, the son of Ghanaian parents. He had his name changed when his mother married the head of the French Consulate in Accra, who adopted all of her children (the former professional footballer Seth Adonkor, seven years his elder, was a half-brother of his). The family relocated to France when Desailly was four years old. Following Adonkor's lead, he began his career at FC Nantes. There, as part of the famed FC Nantes youth programme, he played alongside a young Didier Deschamps, who became his closest friend. Desailly turned professional in 1986, two years after his half-brother had died in a car accident. In 1992, he moved to Olympique de Marseille, where he reunited with Deschamps, and won the UEFA Champions League the following year. In 1994, while playing for A.C. Milan, he again won the Cup (scoring in the final himself), being the first player to win the Cup in consecutive seasons with different clubs. During his time in Milan he won two Italian league titles, in 1994 and 1996. Although he preferred to be deployed as a sweeper or centre-back, roles which he played during his time in France,[4] he found much success playing as a defensive midfielder for Milan, alongside Demetrio Albertini, due to the presence of several other established centre-backs at the club, such as Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Filippo Galli.

Desailly then moved to the English club Chelsea in 1998 for £4.6m,[5] where he captained the side and played sweeper and centre-back until the end of the 2003–04 season. It was at Chelsea that Desailly formed a formidable partnership with Frank Leboeuf.

He picked up one major trophy in his six seasons with Chelsea, being on the winning side in their FA Cup triumph over Aston Villa in 2000.[6]

Desailly was snapped up by Qatari outfit Al-Gharafa in 2004. He was appointed as the club captain and under the French coach Bruno Metsu they won the Qatar League in 2005. He then joined Qatar S.C., leading them to second place in the league before retiring from professional football.

In 2014, Desailly had met the Football Association of Malaysia and said he was ready and willing to coach the Malaysia national football team.[7] He also pointed that it is now up to the football association whether to hire him or not.[8]

International career

Desailly has often said that he feels totally French and while having ties with Ghana, never even considered playing for a country other than France. During an interview in Ghana, he stated that he did not have much choice about which country to play for as he was already established in the French national youth football team.[9] This stance was restated in his autobiography, published in 2002. He made his international debut in 1993, but was not established as a first choice defender until 1996.

He was an important part of the French team which won the 1998 FIFA World Cup, albeit being sent off in the final match. Like other team members, he was appointed a Knight of the Legion of Honour in 1998.[1]

Two years later success continued, as France won Euro 2000. After the tournament, Desailly was made captain of the national team, following the retirement of Didier Deschamps. In 2001, he led France to victory in the Confederations Cup.

In April 2003, Desailly surpassed the record for the number of appearances for the French team, a number which eventually reached 116 when he announced his retirement from international football following 2004 UEFA European Football Championship. However, that record was broken during the 2006 FIFA World Cup by Lilian Thuram.

Style of play

Nicknamed "The Rock", due to his consistency, strength, and hard-tackling playing style, Desailly is considered one of the most accomplished players of his generation, and one of the finest French defenders ever, who stood out for his charismatic leadership and ability to organise his team's back-line and break down opposition plays throughout his career. A quick, hard-working, tenacious, and powerful player, who excelled in the air and at anticipating his opponents, he combined his aggression, stamina, and ability to read the game, as well as his physical, mental, and defensive skills, with a notable confidence and good technique on the ball, which also allowed him to play in midfield throughout his career; indeed, after moving to Milan, although he initially started out playing as a centre-back or sweeper, and occasionally even as a full-back, he was later deployed as a defensive midfielder, a position in which he also excelled, successfully filling the void left by the departure of Frank Rijkaard due his ball-winning abilities and capacity to start attacking plays after winning back possession. In addition to his defensive skills, he was also capable of contributing to his team's offensive plays with goals by making attacking runs into the box.[4][10][11][12][13] In 2004, he was named by Pelé in the FIFA 100 as one of the world's greatest living players.[14]


Marcel Desailly is currently residing in Ghana.[15] He is currently a Laureus Academy member and OrphanAid Africa Lifetime ambassador to Ghana and France (since 2005). He was mentioned as a possible candidate for the coaching position of Ghana's national team.[16] He has since then pulled out of the race to coach the Ghana National Team, although the option is likely to keep coming up. He has opened (June 2011) a sports facility in Ghana called Lizzy Sports Complex, in memory of his late mother, geared to young players and children in particular. Many African National teams use the centre to camp and prepare for international tournaments.

Post-playing career

Desailly on stage at the launch of 1GOAL Education for All in 2009.

Desailly's autobiography, Capitaine, was published in France by Stock in 2002.

Media work

Following retirement, Desailly became a pundit for BBC Sport predominantly giving his opinion from the touchline at both half time and full-time as opposed to residing in the studio with Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer and Martin O'Neill.

He worked for BBC Sport in the United Kingdom during the 2006 World Cup, as one of their Match of the Day analysts.

He also worked for BBC Sport at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations and Euro 2008 and is a regular commentator for French television channel Canal Plus.

He also became a spokesperson for sports betting website Betclic.[17]

In 2010 Desailly joined the ITV Sport team for their World Cup coverage from South Africa.[18][19]

Charity work

Desailly is a supporter of the 1GOAL Education for All campaign.[20] He is also the UNICEF national Goodwill Ambassador for Ghana.[21] He is the Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador for his personal Charity OrphanAid Africa, that helps abandoned children in Ghana. He is a member of the Laureus Sports for Good Foundation.

Licensed merchandise

A mobile video game entitled Marcel Desailly Pro Soccer, developed by Gameloft was released for mobile phones in 2003.[22]

Personal life

Desailly is a member of the Ga ethnic group. He is married to Virginie and has 4 children. His nephew James Adams is currently a semi-professional footballer for Boca Gibraltar in the Gibraltar Second Division.[23]

Career statistics



Club performance League Cup Other Continental Other Total
Club Season Division AppsGoals AppsGoals AppsGoals AppsGoals AppsGoals AppsGoals
Nantes 1986–87 Division 1 1301020160
1987–88 Division 1 11010120
1988–89 Division 1 36140401
1989–90 Division 1 36130391
1990–91 Division 1 34140381
1991–92 Division 1 32210332
Total 1625140201785
Marseille 1992–93 Division 1 31130101442
1993–94 Division 1 16000160
Total 47130101602
A.C. Milan 1993–94 Serie A 21110006230313
1994–95 Serie A 221100010030361
1995–96 Serie A 3221070402
1996–97 Serie A 291301050381
1997–98 Serie A 33080410
Total 137514010282601867
Chelsea 1998–99 Premier League 31060007110451
1999–2000 Premier League 2314000160431
2000–01 Premier League 34220101010392
2001–02 Premier League 241803020371
2002–03 Premier League 312100010332
2003–04 Premier League 150101080250
Total 158622050351202227
Al-Gharafa 2004–05 Stars League 286286
Qatar SC 2005–06 Stars League 7070
Total 53923530607548068127




International goals

Desailly – goals for France[30]
16 September 1995Stade de l'Abbé-Deschamps, Auxerre, France Azerbaijan1–010–0Euro 1996 qualifier
225 January 1998Stade Vélodrome, Marseille, France Norway3–33–3Friendly
37 June 2001Suwon World Cup Stadium, Suwon, South Korea Brazil2–12–12001 FIFA Confederations Cup



A.C. Milan[31][32]

  • Serie A: 1993–94, 1995–96
  • Supercoppa Italiana: 1994
  • UEFA Champions League: 1993–94
  • European Super Cup: 1994


  • FA Cup: 1999–2000
  • FA Charity Shield: 2000
  • UEFA Super Cup: 1998


  • Qatar Stars League: 2004–05




See also

  • List of men's footballers with 100 or more international caps


  1. "Décret du 24 juillet 1998 portant nomination à titre exceptionnel" [Decree of 24 July 1998 appointing on an exceptional basis]. Official Journal of the French Republic (in French). 1998 (170). 25 July 1998. PREX9801916D. Retrieved 2 January 2021.
  2. "Marcel Desailly". Barry Hugman's Footballers. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  3. "Marcel Desailly: Overview". Premier League. Retrieved 26 December 2020.
  4. "The five players Fabio Capello made superstars". The Daily Telegraph. 16 December 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
  5. "Desailly plans to join Lazio next summer". The Independent. 21 December 1999.
  6. "Chelsea claim FA Cup glory". BBC News. 20 May 2000.
  7. "Desailly eager to coach Malaysia". The Star. 26 February 2014. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
  8. "Desailly Ready To Take Up Job of National Coach in Malaysia". Bernama. 26 February 2014. Archived from the original on 26 February 2014. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
  9. "I had no choice - Marcel Desailly on why he played for France". GhanaWeb. 1 July 2020. Retrieved 1 July 2020. I didn’t really have the choice, I was inside the system and (at) Under-13 I was already playing for France National team.
  10. "MasterCard All-Star Team of the 1998 World Cup". FIFA. 10 July 1998. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  11. "BBC Sport: Euro 2000 Profile - Marcel Desailly". BBC Sport. Retrieved 14 April 2015.
  12. Hitesh Ratna (1 December 2007). "Ruud Gullit: Perfect XI". Four Four Two. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  13. "Marcel DESAILLY (II)" (in Italian). Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  14. "Pele's list of the greatest". BBC Sport. 4 March 2004. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  15. "Marcel Desailly Biography, Career Info, Records & Achievements". Retrieved 26 May 2020.
  16. "Desailly confirms intention to coach Ghana". BBC Sport. 2 December 2007.
  17. "NBA champion Tony Parker Signs with Poker Site BetClic". 26 February 2010. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  18. "World Cup 2010" Archived 11 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine . ITV. 2 June 2010.
  19. "ITV signs up Patrick Vieira and Francois Pienaar for World Cup football coverage". The Daily Telegraph. 28 May 2010.
  20. "Ambassadors and Supporters". 1GOAL. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  21. "National ambassadors". UNICEF. 3 February 2012. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  22. "Marcel Desailly Pro Soccer" Archived 27 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine . Wireless 26 April 2004. Retrieved 7 October 2008.
  23. "Boca Gibraltar sign James Edouard Adams – Lizzy Sports Complex". 9 February 2018. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  24. "Desailly career stats". Football Retrieved 13 July 2012.
  25. "Desailly Chelsea stats". Retrieved 13 July 2012.
  26. "Marcel Desailly – Matches in European Cups". RSSSF. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  27. "Desailly". National Football Teams. Benjamin Strack-Zimmermann. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
  28. "Desailly Qatar league stats". RSSSF. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
  29. "Marcel Desailly – Century of International Appearances". RSSSF. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
  30. "Marcel Desailly". Retrieved 25 January 2013.
  31. "Marcel Desailly". Retrieved 31 December 2015.
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  33. "M. Desailly". Soccerway. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  34. "Qatar - List of Champions".
  35. Christopher Davies (15 April 2003). "The Premiership elite selection 1993-2003". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 December 2015.
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  38. "UEFA Euro 2000 team of the tournament". UEFA. 1 January 2011. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
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  40. "Marcel Desailly nel gotha del calcio mondiale, suo il Golden Foot Hublot Legends". 6 November 2017. Archived from the original on 9 November 2017. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
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