Ribery hopes for rise in fortune
Four years after his dream World Cup debut, France’s Franck Ribery travels to South Africa hoping a stellar display will help eclipse a nightmare season filled with injury and scandal.
The 27-year-old made his France debut just before the 2006 World Cup and played a leading role in getting France to the final, including scoring a superb individual goal with trademark flare in the last 16 win over Spain.
Having caught the world’s attention, Ribery’s star continued to rise until, this season injury, a red-card in the Champions League semi-final and an under-age call-girl scandal brought him back down to earth.
In the wake of the last World Cup, a 25 million euro (30.9m US dollars) transfer from Marseille to Bayern Munich in July 2007 teamed the Frenchman up with Italian striker Luca Toni and Germany’s Miroslav Klose.
The trio spearheaded Bayern’s attack as they won the league and cup double.
Ribery could do little wrong it seemed, even if his follow-up season was not so impressive as the club struggled to qualify for the Champions League.
But this season started promisingly enough.
An exciting partnership alongside Real Madrid reject Arjen Robben quickly took shape which the German media dubbed ’Robbery’, such was the pair’s ability to steal confidence from their opponents and unlock defences.
But Ribery’s form foundered on a persistent knee injury and with the Frenchman stuck in the rehabilitation centre, Robben and striker Ivica Olic helped steer Bayern into the semi-finals of the Champions League.
In April, the scene was set for Ribery to show his old form and prove himself after yet another return from injury in the semi-final against Lyon.
But the weekend before the game, police investigating an under-age call-girl ring at a Parisian nightclub questioned Ribery, who later admitted having sexual relations with the girl but denied he knew she was under-age.
As the media storm broke, Bayern closed ranks and protected him from a barrage of questions, but just 37 minutes into the Lyon game he trod on the ankle of striker Lisandro Lopez and was shown a straight red card.
UEFA took a dim view of the foul and hit him with a three-match ban which kept him out of both the second-leg, semi-final win at Lyon and the Madrid final, just to compound Ribery’s problems.
Ribery’s relationship with the German media had not been helped by constant speculation over a possible contract extension at Bayern or a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona.
But last Saturday, he finally settled the issue by signing to stay on with Bayern until 2015.
“The main reason I’m staying is the family nature of the club, and because of the fans who chant my name,” he said.
Having been selected for France’s World Cup squad, Ribery has much to prove in the Republic if his reputation as an all-action winger is to remain intact.
But Bayern’s loss could be France’s gain as Ribery’s lack of Champions League football has kept him fresh and, having helped Bayern win the Bundesliga title, he scored in the 4-0 rout of Werder Bremen in the German Cup final.
“I think that was one of my best games of the season,” Ribery said after scoring a second-half goal with his usual aplomb.
A few more goals like that in Group A against Mexico, hosts South Africa or Uruguay would certainly go some way in helping to erase a season to forget for the Frenchman.