Tigana started his professional career as a player at Toulon, having been spotted fairly late playing part-time while employed in a spaghetti factory and then as a postman. He moved to Lyon in 1978 and then to Bordeaux in a $4million transfer. He was part of the French national football team that won the European Championship in 1984, defeating Spain in the final. In Bordeaux's midfield for eight years, Tigana helped them to three league titles and three French cups, as well as taking them close to European glory on two occasions, losing in the semi-final of the European Cup and Cup Winners' Cup in 1985 and 1987 respectively.
He moved in 1989 to Olympique Marseille, and ended his career there following the 1990/91 season.
As an international, he joined Michel Platini, Luis Fernandez and Alain Giresse in what was termed "the Magic Square" (le Carré Magique) – one of the great midfield foursomes of all time. Tigana's single international goal came against Hungary in the 1986 World Cup finals.