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.
Tigana was a box-to box midfielder noted for his great movement, teamwork, pace and tireless stamina. Tigana was also responsible for the defensive game and often went forward to create opportunities for his teammates.
For his first managerial role, Tigana returned to Lyon, coaching them from 1993–1995, before moving on to AS Monaco, where he remained until 1999.
He took over as manager of English club Fulham in 2000 and helped them to promotion from the Football League First Division to the FA Premier League, and later the UEFA Cup (via the Intertoto Cup), but was sacked in April 2003. The club later took him to court, claiming he had wrongly overpaid for certain players such as Steve Marlet, but the charges were dropped. Tigana then took Fulham to court for wrongful dismissal and won, winning a payout of over £2 million.
In October 2005, he signed a two and a half year contract with Turkish side Beşiktaş. During that same season, Beşiktaş won their first Turkish Cup in eight years.
Immediately after winning the 2007 Turkish Cup, Tigana announced that he was to leave Beşiktaş at the end of the season. He left Beşiktaş with two games to play, after a contract termination agreement with club board. On 25 May 2010, Tigana returned to coaching joining Ligue 1 club Bordeaux, replacing Laurent Blanc.
On 7 May 2011, after a severe defeat against Sochaux (0-4) and a verbal aggression from Bordeaux team fans against his daughter, who was in the stadium, he announced that he was to leave the Girondins de Bordeaux.
On 18 December 2011, it was announced that Tigana would coach Shanghai Shenhua from 2012 season.
On 15 April 2012, Tigana resigned as manager of Shanghai Shenhua after a run of poor form leaving the Chinese club in the bottom 5 of its domestic league.